UCT skeletons continue to haunt student body


READERS MAY be familiar with my correspondence with the previous UCT Vice Chancellor, Max Price, and the follow-up penned to his successor,  Mamokgethi Phakeng, written after a seminar ‘Let’s Talk About the History of Racism in Science: Darwin’s Hunch and the Search for Human Origins’ by Christa Kuljian

It turns out that a PhD student at UCT with a thesis focus on “Museums and the Construction (of race identity)” tracing human remains in museums and universities, Wandile Kasibe was denied access to records and collections.

In an article on Vernac News, ‘UCT skeletons in the cupboard not a mistake, but evidence of a colonial crime against humanity Kasibe writes:

“In May 2017, I approached UCT Anatomy Department requesting to be granted access to records and human remains collections that were unethically collected for race ‘science’.

“I submitted a formal application to access information on 9 July 2017 and received a reply denying my request on 18 August 2017 from the curator of the collection, Dr Victoria Gibbon, as follows “The committee has taken a unanimous decision to deny your ‘Request to Access University of Cape Town’s Anatomy Department Collections and Records’”.

Kasibe adds that on 22 August 2017, he expressed his ‘disappointment that the committee had taken a decision to deny me access, thus creating an ethos of exclusion that is in direct contravention of the freedom of information at the University. ”

A motion before the annual UCT Convocation, calls for the institution to establish ‘a dedicated fund to support research into the troubled legacy of apartheid race science including;

1. The varied relationships between the University of Cape Town and the segregationist and racial ideologies of the Colonial and Apartheid eras.

2. The experiences documented, archived or oral – of previously disenfranchised students and staff members at the University of Cape Town since its establishment in 1916.

3. Acts of exclusion, those of commission and omission, including, but not limited to the University of Cape Town’s allocation of resources, access to facilities and curriculum design and content during the Colonial and Apartheid eras.’

As a person affected by academic exclusions, conducted during the apartheid-era state of emergency, the banning of lecturers and the several en masse bannings of campus organisations, I can only hope that the resolution is passed and that both campus administration and UCT student body are serious about addressing our past.

In a further development, Judith du Toit Director, Office of the Vice-Chancellor acknowledged receipt of the open letter, and states for the record “I have followed up on the matter of concern, namely that Emeritus Halton Cheadle serves on the University Senate, and established that he is not a member of Senate.”

To which I responded via email: “Am I to understand then, that Mr Cheadle is not a member of Senate but rather a member of convocation consisting of “c) those former professors and associate professors elected by the senate to be emeritus professors or emeritus associate professors” ?

“In the event, the question remains, does UCT administration support the repugnant apartheid race science and multi-regionalist/multiracialist view of certain members of convocation?”

“I also note here for the record, the ‘ethos of exclusion’ pertaining to the legacy of apartheid race science at the institution, inter alia, the UCT anatomy department ‘skeleton collection’, and previously referred to in my letter.”

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