[DEBATE] : CCS closure threat (2): Sunday Independent coverage
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun Aug 10 05:35:11 BST 2008
Civil society unit at risk
Cosatu joins fight to save the University of KwaZulu-Natal's centre
devoted to social justice
August 10, 2008 Edition 1
South Africa's first Centre for Civil Society (CCS) at the University of
KwaZulu-Natal may be forced to close its doors because of political
pressure. With it will go the jobs of 12 black staff and the prestige it
has brought to the university.
The centre has developed a profile for its leftwing views which did not
sit easily with the university management. This week, Patrick Bond, the
director of the CCS, said that he had been pressured to make more of a
home for rightwing academic scholarship.
But Bond appointed Dennis Brutus, a well-known leftwing activist and
writer, as honorary professor.
Now Cosatu has joined in the fray, calling on the university to keep its
hands off the CCS.
It issued a statement saying it hoped "the university administrators
will realise their mistake and support this valuable institution".
The university's reason for its imminent closure, inadequate funding,
"is paltry and possibly spurious", said Cosatu. "If there is a genuine
problem of finding funds for the unit, the government must step in to
fund this important institution."
Bond said that the centre had funds to carry it through the next two
years. "It is not unusual for academic research in institutions to be
conducted with 'soft money' - money which has to be continually raised."
At Cosatu House on Friday, Bond had come to present to the federation's
central executive committee research that he is conducting with
colleagues at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health on the costing of
Cosatu's national health insurance strategy.
Dominic Tweedie, the editor of The Shop Steward, Cosatu's journal, said:
"When CCS was a political nuisance to Cosatu, harassing us from the
left, its existence was no problem to the powers that be. I am not
saying that Cosatu has jumped into bed totally with CCS, but we are
It is, after all, the job of the centre to generate knowledge by
observing contests for power.
CCS claims to push for socioeconomic and environmental justice, which
happens "by developing critical knowledge about, for and in dialogue
with civil society".
Such a push is unlikely to come from rightwing scholars. Tweedie said
that the command was prescriptive. "Telling people which scholars to
include in their organisations has nothing to do with academic freedom.
You have to be able to accommodate people who make you feel
uncomfortable, whatever else are universities for?"
If CCS goes, the monthly Harold Wolpe debates, the seminar series,
conferences and workshops and the transfer of experience from
communities to academics could go, too.
The CCS was launched in 2001 by Adam Habib, a political scientist. Bond
began his tenure as director, on October 1 2004. His contract with CCS,
originally set for three years, was extended while the review of the
centre was conducted.
"In early 2007, I said that, when my directorship ended, I ideally
wanted to be replaced by an African - who can bring us into new areas.
The university slogan is 'Premier University of African Scholarship'.
And already we do a lot on the continent, including working against
Bond, who has tenure as a professor at the university and who will not
lose his job, says this closure, which would put 12 black people out of
work, is "disastrous for race, class and gender. It is a hit to our
diversity and equity programme".
The university's latest review of the centre, completed in February,
pointed to flaws in the CCS, such as teaching - which it said should be
taken more seriously, even as a subsidiary activity. However, it said
CCS was "the leading academic-based centre in Africa devoted to
citizen's initiatives for social/environmental justice". Strengthen the
centre and give it more autonomy, it said.
The CCS links activism with academia, publishing its rigorous research
in peer-reviewed academic journals. "It would be foolish of the
university to lose the contributions made by Bond to its research
profile," said the review.
While the pressure against left-wing academics at the University of
KwaZulu-Natal has been building, so has resistance. Bond says the
imminent closure of the centre, and its integration in a new form into
the School of Development Studies is not unique. Ashwin Desai, the
radical academic was fired, banned and barred from the university after
leading the 1996 strike against its corporatisation.
Although the banning was lifted in 2003, Malegapuru Makgoba, the
vice-chancellor, again banned Desai in 2005. This was protested by
leading international academics, including Noam Chomsky. Makgoba said
Chomsky was suffering from "dementia".
Now Makgoba will have Cosatu to deal with. He was not willing to comment
on the CCS matter on Friday.
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