'I regret that': UCT vice-chancellor on 'one settler‚ one bullet'

UCT Vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
UCT Vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
Image: Esa Alexander

"I regret that. I realise that as the vice-chancellor every word I utter or write is scrutinised‚ and I have certainly learnt from the experience."

That is what the University Cape Town VC Mamokgethi Phakeng said on Thursday in her apology for the furore on social media after she praised a student on Twitter who wrote “ONE SETTLER‚ ONE BULLET!!” in the acknowledgements of his unmarked honours research project.

"My intention was a simple one — to congratulate a student who had reached the significant milestone of handing in an honours dissertation and to support him for considering a master’s degree. I only realised later that the words 'one settler‚ one bullet' were used‚ and I made it immediately clear that I do not support such a statement. Having said that‚ I accept my error and it is an obvious one — I did not read the complete post and should have done so."

Phakeng said she would never support or advocate violence.

"I feel that my support to students‚ even those that might be controversial or falter or make mistakes‚ is a deep commitment. I believe that such students can be supported to greater success and can make a positive contribution to transformation‚ not only of our institution but also of our society."

Phakeng said Masixole Mlandu’s honours research project will be marked within the accepted policies and protocols of the faculty.

"The student who used the words must take responsibility for what he wrote and face the criticism or praise that comes with it. Many will agree with him and many will differ. He has a right to express his views and others have a right to express their differing views."

Phakeng said the slogan "one settler‚ one bullet" shows the complexities of SA’s history.

"South African courts have not made a finding about whether the slogan is hate speech."

She said UCT’s executive believed the slogan might lead to a "divisive‚ hostile and intimidating environment".

"The slogan may create negativity and affirms division. While political slogans such as this may have the potential to heighten debate about our difficult segregated past‚ they obscure our vision of being an inclusive university."

Phakeng said the university would not not discipline Mlandu but has asked the office for inclusivity and change (OIC) to speak to him.

"It is important that debates and conversations are allowed to take place and that conclusions are allowed to be formed without using disciplinary processes to try to force issues one way or another. We would much rather see an experience unfold that is more educational‚ meaningful and restorative."

She said UCT must be guided by the overarching principle that it is a university.

"At UCT we have committed ourselves to being inclusive‚ which means learning to share the space with those whose political ideologies differ from ours. It is important that we all support transformation through conversation‚ engagement and negotiation‚ and not through violence."

Phakeng took a jab at her critics.

"It is interesting to note that some of the voices of complaint on the issue are as violent‚ divisive and hurtful as what they accuse the speaker of. We do not wish to prolong or add to that narrative."

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