100 years of UCT – what was, and what could be

19 Nov 2018 - 10:30
Dr Russell Ally, executive director of UCT's Development and Alumni Department, introduces Keith Gottschalk at the seminar on 3 September 2018.

The first goal of UCT’s Strategic Planning Framework, 2016-2020, is clear and comprehensive: to forge a new inclusive identity that reflects a more representative profile of students and staff, and the cultures, values, heritage and epistemologies of the diversity of UCT’s staff and students”.

Being able to forge a new identity is dependent, of course, on understanding what the present identity – or identities – might be, if those even exist. Historical analysis, then, is a necessary starting point.

The idea that history is written by the victors, famously declared by Winston Churchill to the British House of Commons in the 1930s, has taken root almost as common sense in popular thinking.

Yet Dr Martin Luther King Jr., speaking on 28 August 1963, argued differently: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

It is likely that both ideas hold a portion of truth.

UCT celebrates one hundred years as a dedicated degree-issuing institution this year, and will commemorate 190 years since its founding next year.

Over this long history, deep traditions took root and evolved into an institutional culture and academic milieu that has had a profound influence on generations of students, staff and communities. UCT was borne at the height of the colonial conquest by Britain and the Dutch, and its early years echoed that heritage. As South Africa evolved – through apartheid, becoming a republic, the struggle against oppression and the eventual toppling of the apartheid regime – UCT evolved, too, often presenting to the public a conflicted face regarding these central issues.

Centenaries offer rare, natural landmarks from which to reflect, to interrogate and to plan.

Through the eyes of our nine vice-chancellors, the Development and Alumni Department held a seminar series that traced UCT’s history, uncovering its evolution era by era.

Those nine vice-chancellors were Sir John Carruthers Beattie (1918-1938), AW Falconer (1938-1947), TB Davie (1948-1955), JP Duminy (1958-1967), Sir Richard Luyt (1968-1980), Stuart Saunders (1981-1996), Mamphela Ramphele (1997-2000), Njabulo S Ndebele (2000-2008), and Max Price (2008-2018).

For many, this history is understood to be one of racial exclusion, unearned privilege and Western hegemony, while marginalising African intellectualism and values. By locating each period of UCT’s history within South Africa’s socio-political context at the time, this seminar series aims to add empirical evidence and nuance to the conversation.

These discussion were not intended as a comprehensive appraisal of UCT’s past. The did, however, aim to make a pointed contribution to our understanding so that the equitable future we envision is built on real knowledge of how the university shaped – and was shaped by – the South African, African and global landscapes.

The series kicked off on 16 August 2018 and ran until 29 October 2018. Speakers from academia and civil society and people who helped shape UCT over the past one hundred years.

Listen to the podcasts below.

Keith Gottschalk - 3 September 2018

Speaking on the tenure of JP Duminy, 1958-1967

Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza - 25 September 2018

Speaking on tenure of Richard Luyt, 1968-1980

Nonfundo Walaza - 8 October 2018

Speaking on tenure of Stuart Saunders, 1980-1996

Emer Assoc Prof David Cooper - 15 October 2018

Speaking on tenure of Mamphela Ramphele, 1996-2000

Assoc Prof Harry Garuba - 22 October 2018

Speaking on tenure of Njabulo Ndebele, 2000-2008

Ramabina Mahapa - 29 October 2018

Speaking on Max Price, 2008-2018