Statement sent to VC Max Price and UCT Philosophy Department staff
7 Oct 2016 - 16:00
We are a group of concerned philosophers (students, tutors and alumni), concerned specifically about 1) the increased militarisation of UCT including the presence of private security and the excessive use of force by private security and police on campus 2) the silence of the philosophy department on this issue and on the protests in general.
We support the completion of the academic year in the context of a demilitarised negotiated settlement amongst UCT management and protesters - not by using private security and police to force campus open. Not only do we think that the latter option is morally wrong but it is also imprudent. The presence of private security and police on campus is polarizing and has and inevitably will only increase tensions, making the completion of the academic year impossible. Far from “restoring order”, their presence on campus creates a climate of fear and uncertainty which is not conducive to academic activities.
For example, the excessive force used by private security on the evening of October 4th and the morning of October 5th, including the clearly provocative eviction of students from Steve Biko building (and de facto seizure of students’ food and personal property), as well as extreme aggression of private security (including shooting students with “less lethal” munitions) led to a dramatic escalation of the situation on campus.Moreover, given that this sort of aggressive response has occurred from private security over and over again, not just at UCT but to a far greater extent at some other campuses, the mere militarisation of campus increases tensions and hostility, and creates an environment that is directly counterproductive to constructive engagement. On the other hand, we have a clear example of the success of demilitarisation. The dean of the faculty of Health Science’s agreement to remove private security led to a peaceful two week occupation and shutdown, during which time extensive and focused negotiation has produced an agreement that is mutually beneficial to students and staff, as well as an end to the occupation of campus.
The UCT Black Academic Caucus (BAC) has already noted in their Open Letter to UCT Council (http://bit.ly/2cVvBAz) on the 29th of September that forcing campus open using security measures will likely “escalate violent confrontation”. They also predicted that black students and staff will be targeted by private security. All of us have heard first hand accounts and many of us have personally witnessed such racial profiling. Moreover, this private security firm has broken at least eight items on the code of conduct of PSIRA, the authority that regulates the private security in South Africa, in this week alone - to the point that queries of whether it is possible to perform a citizen's arrest of private security have been common on campus in the last couple of days.
We share similar sentiments with the BAC and other organisations (e.g. Humanities Dean’s Advisory Committee (http://bit.ly/2dzcJ87), Academics of Health Sciences (https://goo.gl/bG8Jta) and UCT SRC (http://bit.ly/2dnfX0s)) on the role of security forces in the opening of campus. Specifically, we call on management to immediately remove private security from all University premises and to re-enter into negotiations with protesters. As students have emphasised, the seriousness of the issues being negotiated necessitates a period of self-imposed shutdown.
We believe that in the current climate, continuing the academic project is unacceptable. We therefore choose to boycott UCT until it is demilitarised: students will not attend class; tutors will not run tutorials; and lecturers are encouraged not to run lectures. Furthermore, we encourage all students, tutors and lecturers from other departments to do the same.
The department’s silence on these issues is deeply problematic for several reasons. Firstly, with no official statement Professor Benatar’s recent opinion piece (http://www.politicsweb.co.za/opinion/uct-capitulation-isnt-working) is perceived as the department's position in the absence of any other communication. This is undesirable because the article 1) endorses violence against the protesters and 2) denounces them without properly engaging with their aims and the nuanced philosophical positions that inform them. Secondly, the department’s current popular image is very unfavorable and so silence perpetuates stereotypes about the department, its staff and its students. Regardless of whether these are deserved, silence does no good to the department other than make it seem untransformed and uncritical of current events. As a discipline centred around critical thinking and analysis, we feel that as philosophers we can’t remain silent about events on campus. We propose a departmental mass meeting (including students, tutors and staff) sometime next week. In the meantime we invite all members of faculty to send us their thoughts on these issues, so that those who wish to engage on the above topics can begin the meeting with a basic understanding of the various perspectives within the department, and so as to initiate a constructive dialogue.
The final signatory list will be released once everyone has had the opportunity to sign