Progress SA to convene an alternative Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) at UCT

5 August 2019

For immediate release

 ‘Dare to think for yourself.’ — Voltaire

Following a series of events at UCT that have signified declining support for academic freedom from University management and the current Academic Freedom Committee (AFC), Progress SA has decided to convene an alternative AFC at UCT. We hereby call for nominations to the alternate committee.

The function of this committee will be to monitor events at, and decisions made by, the University in the interests of ensuring that teaching, learning and intellectual inquiry is not hindered by narrow political and ideological considerations. The resolutions of the committee will be made public in the form of statements. The committee will keep the University accountable, and ultimately ensure that the principles of academic freedom remain sacrosanct at UCT.

In keeping with the definition offered by the UCT Academics Union and academic freedom organisations all over the free world, we define academic freedom as:

The belief that the protection of scholars’ right to freely learn, teach and communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to various political groups or the state) is essential to the mission of a university. In essence, it means simply that no member of a university may face any kind of institutional ostracisation, repression, job loss, marking prejudice or other form of sanction for expressing or wanting to hear about any idea or fact.

Academic freedom is enshrined in section 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 as an incident of freedom of expression, and is a fundamental human right.

It is unfortunate that hard-won freedoms such as the aforementioned remain under threat by a few ideologically-obsessed and biased incumbents of the University’s AFC, which continues to fail in its primary duties, in addition to failing dismally at consulting the general university community on matters of importance that concern students, academics and alumni who have a vested interest in the success of the institution.

Progress SA encourages freedom-loving individuals, student leaders, alumni and academic staff at the University of Cape Town to nominate themselves or others to serve on the alternate AFC.

To nominate yourself or another, please complete the nomination form.

Submissions must be received by Sunday, August 25, 2019.

Media Enquiries:

Scott Roberts (Secretary: Progress SA)

UCT’s council decision on academic boycott

31 March 2019

For immediate release

Progress SA hesitantly welcomes the decision by UCT Council not to adopt Senate's resolution regarding the proposed boycott of Israeli institutions.

Although Council's refusal to adopt Senate's resolution means that academic freedom has lived to see another day, we also note with concern that UCT has once again failed to take a conclusive step towards protecting academic freedom at the University.

In a communiqué issued by UCT’s Communication and Marketing Department yesterday, it was stated that Council reserves the right to dissociate itself from academics and academic institutions who directly or indirectly support the violation of human rights. In other words, Council “reserves the right” to tell academics and students what they are allowed to think and who they can associate with.

We do not believe UCT Council has this right at all.

Academic freedom entails that matters of political conscience are left to the discretion of the individual within an academic institution. Some academics, for example, may believe that the correct response to human rights abuses is to refuse to engage with academics from certain countries. We support these academics' rights to make such choices for themselves. Others, however, may disagree and rather favour an approach of open dialogue and argument. We do not believe that one approach should be prescribed by University management: this kind of authoritarian decision-making simply cannot happen at a University that claims to be committed to freedom of opinion and expression. 

If UCT accepts the viability of this kind of authoritarian control in principle, we would be left with a potentially absurd situation in which academics are not free to associate with anyone from a country whose institutions are suspected of 'enabling' human rights abuses. This would include (according to Amnesty International) China, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Turkey, Myanmar, to name but a few. UCT would not benefit from such isolation, and neither would the people of those individual countries.

Of course, it is doubtful that the Palestinian rights lobby has considered this on such a principled level. They are a single-issue pressure group, whose goal is specific to one set of nationalist interests. We can therefore hardly expect them to have considered how the adoption of their views as general institutional policy would have disastrous ramifications when applied to a broader set of situations. 

Yesterday, Council had an opportunity to bury this issue once and for all. It chose not to, and rather chose a political compromise, passing decision-making responsibility back to Senate. This raises concerns of its being an attempt to evade pertinent issues and deceive the public into thinking it was taking a principled stand. This further bears witness to the necessity of our questioning the University's devotion to the sacrosanctity of academic freedom.

For over two years, this matter has been tossed around in Senate and other bodies with no clear resolution. This not only reveals the lack of decisive and principled leadership at UCT, but also the issues of political apathy and self-censorship amongst academics which have resulted from the ostracisation that liberal-minded academics have faced in the wake of violent student movements and the institutionalisation of radical ideologies.

Progress SA implores members of UCT Senate to be sober-minded when reconsidering this issue at the next meeting of Senate and to consider the ramifications for the institution for many years to come. We will remain relentless and steadfast in our mission to ensure that civil liberties are protected in all public spaces in South Africa, in accordance with basic moral principles and the Constitution. 

Media Enquiries:

To be directed to


25 March 2019

For immediate release

Progress SA notes the decision by UCT Senate to endorse the proposed academic boycott of Israeli institutions by the University.

On March 15, a recommendation from UCT’s Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) was adopted by UCT Senate to prohibit the University from engaging with Israeli academic institutions. This measure attempts to link institutional academic engagements to human rights-related factors that singularly focus on Israel’s alleged actions, and no other country or territory in the world.

Progress SA is not surprised by the AFC’s tactical and careful wording of this recommendation, which follows its obsession to push through this boycott measure over a year of its having meetings and deliberations on this issue, above all other pressing matters of academic freedom at UCT. The rewording, however, does not mitigate the fact that the proposed measure is a serious threat to academic freedom at UCT.

In a campaign last month, Progress SA highlighted the fundamental importance of academic freedom to the very existence of the University. In response to our questioning University management’s attitudes to academic freedom, the Vice-Chancellor affirmed that UCT is committed to ‘open debate and academic freedom’. We therefore find it strange that the Vice-Chancellor and her deputies presided over the meeting of Senate that approved this proposal, without so much as registering a single reservation that it would harm the freedom of academics and students to associate with whomever they choose.

Any limitation of academic freedom will severely damage UCT’s reputation as a bastion of academic inquiry. It comes at the expense of ordinary students and staff wishing to pursue their academic activities freely. This, of course, was expected due to UCT’s ever-increasing hostility towards both academic and intellectual freedom across its various disciplines.

The AFC has one simple task, and that is to safeguard and defend academic freedom at all costs. It is ironic and patently clear that a committee reserved for just that is not fit enough to carry out its mandate, and bizarrely recommends the limitation of academic freedom.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex issue, and Progress SA does not purport to offer any solutions to it, or to take any specific position on it at this stage. Solving world conflicts, is not, however, the primary and indispensable function of a university. The primary and indispensable function of a university is to provide a space for free thought and rational enquiry, where learning and teaching can flourish unabated. The fact that the AFC would deny UCT its ability to perform this function is a travesty.

We therefore urge members of UCT Council to do the most rational thing and reject this proposal as nothing more than an attempt to hijack the University’s power for the interests of a narrow ideological faction.

Progress SA will remain unwavering in its mission to ensure freedom-loving students and citizens at large are not suppressed by the ever-increasing culture of antagonism toward liberal values in every sphere of our society.

Media Enquiries:

To be directed to


18 February 2019

For immediate release

Progress SA notes, with no surprise, University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Vice Chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng’s, disturbing refusal to engage students on issues of academic liberty and ideological freedom at the beleaguered institution.

In a campaign initiated in partnership with African Students for Liberty (ASFL), Progress SA rallied students to ask pertinent questions about the retrogressing state of freedoms at UCT under the hashtags ‘is UCT free’ and ‘ask Phakeng’. Rather than attending to these concerns promptly, in a sheer act of intolerance, Phakeng took to twitter to block Progress SA’s twitter account and the accounts of students raising similar concerns.

Phakeng further made an astounding claim in response, tweeting that, “Apparently their plan is to get me to resign but I am not interested in that. #Andizi.” This single tweet neatly illustrated UCT’s unwillingness to engage students who peacefully bring matters of strategic importance to the attention of management.

Contrary to the VC’s conspiracy theory, Progress SA has no desire to force her resignation. We are only interested in sourcing answers to what we believe is a perfectly reasonable question: What is her administration doing to ensure UCT once again becomes a safe space for ideas, an institution at which intellectual and academic freedoms are protected?

Progress SA is well aware of Phakeng and UCT’s track record of pandering to regressive identity politics parroted by UCT radicals. It is quite clear that like her predecessor, Max Price, Phakeng is prepared to disregard the voices of an overwhelming majority of students and sympathise with a tiny minority of violent radicals.

Over the course of the last week the #IsUCTFree and #askPhakeng campaigns irked UCT radicals and some senior academics to the point that they have adopted cowardly, conspiratorial tactics to attack Progress SA. Such attacks vindicate the efforts of Progress SA and we consider them a victory.

Progress SA will remain relentless in its mission to ensure all public spaces become inclusive of diverse ideas. The hemorrhaging state of academic freedom at UCT should be seen as nothing less of a tragedy aided by management’s love affair with regressive identity politics.

Media Enquiries:

To be directed to