[DEBATE] : makgoba is a liar
khanfz at ukzn.ac.za
Sat Feb 18 12:07:20 GMT 2006
Thanks to Raj for typing this up.
Those who haven't followed this issue closely might like to know that more or less everything in Makgoba's article is a lie. e.g:
1. The Comittee for Academic Freedom in Africa was formed by exiles from African universities working in the U.S. They were people who had to leave because of political authoritarianism or the general collapse of so many African universities after World Bank attacks on African Universities beginning in the 1980s. They formed the Committee in solidarity with people struggling on back home.
2. It is entirely untrue that Desai has been reluctant to release the agreement made between him and UDW. Makgoba keeps claiming this in a way that implies that Desai has some deep dark secret hidden in the agreement. In fact Desai has made the agreement available to anyone who wants to see it - including the media. It was in fact cited in last week's Mail & Guardian. Also there is nothing in the agreement that is in any way remotely embarassing to Desai.
3. Makgoba's claim to be building a University of African scholarship is entirely bogus. The corporatisation of the university is rapidly subordinating its research and teaching agenda to social forces with big money - big corporates, donors, the World Bank etc. Moreover African students are being forced out by the rapidly increasing costs of university access.
4. Makgoba's claim that previous modes of governance disadvantaged the poor and that corporate modes of governance will undo this are equally bogus. In fact it is a simple empirical fact that poor students are increasingly being denied access to the university. At the Westville campus previous modes of governance were in fact produced out of negotiated settlements between various managements and student struggle. Each of these settlements produced advances for the poor.
5. As the Mail and Guardian reported last week expert legal advice makes it quite clear that the Desai could return to campus with the agreement of the vice-chancellor. Makgoba's claim that this is a matter for council is therefore entirely bogus and, moreover, the unabnning by the last UDW vice-chancellor has full legal standing.
6. No one in the various branches of the campaign against Makgoba's banning of Desai has ever racialised this matter in any way. It is very clear to all that a multi-racial management is using corporate authoritarianism to attack all and any critical voices. Makgoba is simply lying when he claims that this is in any way a racial issue. He told the same sort of lies about the strike. He is also lying when he says that African journalists have not been given the information and that Indian journalists have been specifically targetted by the campaign to unban Desai. They watch our email so they know very well that this isn't true. But even a simply reading of the press shows that in fact that journalists who have covered this story so far in the South African media (Carvin Goldstone, David McFarlane and Jane Duncan) happen to be coloured and white.
7. Makgoba is simply lying when he claims that he did not personally instruct the selection committee not to consider Desai's application. He was directly and personally involved in all the micro-details of the section procedure and there is written correspondence in this regard. When he made a similar claim in the Sunday Times members of that selection committee immediately wrote to vigorously contest that claim.
8. Makgoba's claim that the last time he met Ashwin was in February 2004 is also untrue. He met Ashwin as recently as last week...
'Truth is often less sexy than sensation'
A second look
Was Ashwin Desai banned or was his contract terminated by mutual agreement?
Is this case about an attack on academic freedom or is it about the way the
new university is governed?
The reader would not know for the "debate" on this matter has shed more heat
This matter of Desai and myself, the vice-chancellor of the University of
KwaZulu Natal, has occupied the Internet, the radio and print media. As a
story it has illustrated adequately how distortions, misinformation and how
"the louder-you-shout" approach can rapidly spread to become statements of
fact and shape the parameters of a debate in an unsuspecting public.
It has also illustrated well how the manipulation of the media and the use
of incorrect information can galvanize even the most brilliant of the
world's minds to lose sight of simple facts, principles, ethics and
integrity- the very foundations of academic freedom.
New forms of the media have become, among others, the "opiate" of the weak
and disgruntled forces globally.
Take that unknown but self-appointed committee called [Committee for
Academic Freedom in Africa]; it is led by non-Africans, living out of
Africa, not in touch with all listening to Africans and their plight, but
pontificating upon, acting on behalf of, and defending some anonymous
Africans from the comforts of their armchairs in some distant corner of New
They have started an e-mail petition in defense of Desai that has been
picked up in South Africa without any South African journalist questioning
the standing of the organization or asking its representatives how they came
to take their stand.
The Desai issue has been portrayed in the media as an issue of, and about,
academic freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A good academic, Desai faced serious misconduct charges as a result of his
own actions, actions that, in the findings of the Gautschi commission,
threatened to the academic freedoms of others. That he, by a "mutual
Council-approved agreement, and in the interest of the University", allowed
this freedom to be negotiated and taken away should not be used by others,
nor should he be allowed to reclaim this, through false arguments or ethical
Desai has not responded to a written request from me to lift the
confidentiality clause that was part of the agreement that he entered into
with the university. It would seem that therefore that he wishes of the
university to remain bound by its side of this agreement while he is
released from his side.
I believe that such permission from Desai would clear up this issue quickly
and I hope he will grant permission to reveal the context of the settlement.
Universities are about the pursuit of truth; it is the truth that must
become the basis and guiding light of a debate, truth in "its most naked and
original form" for all to read, interpret and shape.
Unfortunately, the public has been denied this, and instead subjected to
unfortunate debate through poor journalism, poor ethics within journalism
and poor investigative and analytical skills of our journalists.
Through them, you would never know that the issue of Desai is about good
corporate governance and evolution of this within the university system. It
is about how the various legitimate structures such as council, the
executive, the senate, the institutional forum and the student
representative council balance and play out their roles and their powers
effectively in the interests of upholding good governance, compatible with
the values and aspirations of the new South Africa.
In the case of the University of KwaZulu Natal it is also about how two
previous cultures of governance are woven together and regulated ethically
and with integrity to lay the foundation for a new university.
My vision is a university of quality, excellence and sound ethics for the
future, a university whose role it is to develop and nurture African
scholarship and future citizens of our country and the globe. The vigilance
of all the structures, but particularly of council, in the history and
creation of this new ethos of governance is paramount. I am being asked to
override counsel; I will not do so.
The newuniversity inherited, among others, disparate, dated and
uncompetitive conditions of service and a pernicious culture of patronage in
which cliques, or the so-called "untouchables", used public resources and
the protected space created within the university to strike deals, make
decisions informally, irregularly and often without record-keeping --
breaching many procedures for the benefit of and furtherance of each other's
interests and the chosen few. It was an alleged "mafia".
In this milieu the poor, the disadvantaged and equity suffered. Now such
"mafia" tactics of held out as legitimate practice.
The notion that a lawful council agreement can be superseded by an informal
newspaper statement to bind a university to a course of action is deeply
regressive. The idea that in a modern South African University of
vice-chancellor can unilaterally make material public pronouncements that
legally bind the university, without the knowledge, involvement, advice or
reflection of council, senate, the executive or the institutional forum, is
most frightening, and a great threat to the institution that is the
Let me refresh readers' minds about the Desai issue.
Professor Mapule Ramashala, while vice chancellor of the University of
Durban-Westville was delegated by the council to resolve ongoing tensions
and reached a settlement with Desai. The vice chancellor, who is alleged to
have "revoked" this agreement, is her successor Dr.Saths Cooper. No written
record or minutes of this "revoking" can be traced all found in any of the
university's structures or committees, though I have sought this information
I am deeply saddened that this issue, which is only about university
governance, has become racialized and debated narrowly in the media, using a
set of hand-picked journalists and (Indian) commentators. Other (African)
journalists have not been given information and have in fact been abused
when they began to ask the awkward questions about the settlement and the
alleged revocation thereof by the university council.
In this simplistic and unsophisticated media analysis Cooper, Desai, Krish
Govender (former deputy chair of the University of Durban Westville), Adam
Habib (former director of the Center for civil society) and Fazel Khan
(University of KwaZulu Natal sociologist) are ethnicised as an anti-African
Indian cabal, while Namane Magau, Makgoba and Ramashala are presented as
Africanists and therefore anti-Indian. Is any one of us truly reducible to
these one-dimensional stereotypes?
This racialized approach has the propensity to induce guilt and thus drive
us all into papering over profound issues rapidly and in an unprincipled way
in the name of and for the sake of a hallowed national reconciliation. We
are so wrong and those that inherit our Earth will have nothing but contempt
for this approach.
Then there are the media's factual inaccuracies that hide the truth and may
in fact a mount to character assassination, defamation and divisiveness.
Let me use one example in the Mail & Guardian ("Rhodes grabs barred Desai",
January 27). David Macfarlane wrote that: "After he obtained a Human
Sciences Research Council grant to research race and redress in South
African sport, Makgoba instructed the CCS [Centre for Civil Society] that
the position should be advertised, and told Desai he needed to resign his
fellowship to be eligible to apply. The CCS and Desai duly complied."
These so-called "facts" were not verified nor cross-referenced with me or my
office. They were written as matters of fact and without qualification.
Secondly, as reported accurately by Chris Barron in the Sunday Times and
recorded in a report by the chair of the selection committee, I was
approached by the chair of the selection committee for advice on the "legal
status of Dr. Desai's 1998 contract". This was long after the position was
advertised. I was never in contact with the CCS and could not therefore
"instruct" them as reported.
Up until this time, I was rightly not even aware of the existence of such a
position or process within the university as this is a matter far removed
from my jurisdiction. I do not get involved with advertisements for staff
positions or academic appointments which the school, faculty or college
preside upon. I have full confidence in the procedures and processes of the
The last time I had a conversation with Dr. Desai was in February 2004 in my
office. I therefore could not have told Desai to resign his fellowship.
Whoever is the source of the statements is obviously up to mischief-making
and the purpose is to build up the false case that I do not want Desai at
the university. That is not true; all I want is proper governance of a new
institution being shaped for a proud African future.
The media, in their zeal for sensation and headlines, breached many of their
own basic rules. The truth is often not as sexy as sensation: for example,
the media insist that Desai was banned from the university when in fact his
employment was terminated by consent. In the process, and emotional rather
than a rational debate in student but missed the central point: university
governance and the type of university we so need in South Africa.
Like the seasons of the year, the Desai issue will pass, and no amount of
shouting from the rooftops, from any corner of the world, from any organ of
the media, or from any narrow-minded ultra-leftist, will detract from the
B.Sc., UPGDE, MA
School of Sociology and Social Studies
Social Policy Programme
MTB 7th floor Office 703
Howard College, UKZN
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