A year later, part 2: My response to Dr Lushaba’s “open letter”

I responded to Dr Lushaba’s letter on 10 September 2016. Dr Lushaba’s letter has since been posted on the Internet but my reply has not. I am therefore posting it here for reference purposes. It addresses some of the inaccurate claims made by Dr Lushaba in his open letter about the composition of the student body, the curriculum, and employment equity, as well as requesting that Dr Lushaba correct a fabricated quotation.

Anthony Butler

7 September 2017*

[*I have now included my email to Dr Lushaba as an appendix — AB 14 August 2020.]

10 September 2016

Dear Dr Lushaba

I have decided to respond briefly to your ‘open letter’. Some of the issues you touch on will have to be dealt with collectively in our department meetings. Others can only be discussed in a meeting between the two of us. However, there are several matters of interpretation and clarification that I would like to address, in order to limit confusion on the part of our students, potential applicants, and other external stakeholders.

Curriculum issues

The Department of Political Studies started introducing a new and integrated undergraduate Major in Politics and Governance in January 2016, in place of the three previous Majors in Politics, International Relations, and Public Policy and Administration. All new students admitted since January 2016 now follow the new Major. This was the result of decisions taken during a departmental review in 2014, which identified several weaknesses with the existing Majors.

This Major includes a new emphasis on African and South African Politics. Our first year courses, and POL2038F Comparative Politics, have always drawn heavily on African cases, and this continues to be true. In 2017, we will introduce POL2043S South African Politics. (In the past, SA Politics was only available to a minority of our students taking the old Politics Major.)

In the third year, alongside POL3029F Politics of Africa and the Global South, we are introducing POL3046S South African Political Thought. POL3030F Conflict in World Politics draws heavily on African materials. POL3037F Policy and Administration and POL3038S Urban Politics and Administration focus on governance issues in South Africa.

There is also a new focus on African and South African politics at postgraduate level. Starting in January 2017, the Honours programme in Politics will change its structure. It was previously centred on the discipline of Political Science (as practiced in North America) with a compulsory course, POL4012F, in Comparative Politics.

In January 2016, I proposed the creation of a new programme in African Politics. However, a working group, comprising Dr Thiven Reddy, Dr Zwelethu Jolobe, Dr Lauren Paremoer and Dr Lwazi Lushaba, recommended against this option on a variety of grounds, and in favour of a reorientation of the existing Politics programme.

Early in 2016, the Faculty’s Graduate Programmes Committee approved the addition of a new alternate core course, POL4050S Contemporary Debates in African Politics, to the politics programme. As you know, the course was designed by — and will be taught by – Dr Lwazi Lushaba. You indicated that it would include the following themes:

  • Macro Approaches to the Study of Modern African Politics
  • Colonialism in Africa: An Epoch or an Episode
  • The Post-Colonial State: Its Character and Problems
  • Nationalism(s) and Postcolonial Transformation
  • Politics of Economic Reform (SAP) in the 80’s and 90’s
  • Civil Society and Democratization Debates
  • Ethnic Plurality and the Federal Solution in Africa
  • Contested Citizenship and National Cohesion in Africa
  • Africa in the Modern Ideological Sciences of Man
  • Methodological Questions for the Study of African Politics

At Master’s level, students on the Politics programme will still be encouraged to take courses in data analysis but these will no longer be compulsory. This reflects our commitment to a wide range of approaches to the study of political phenomena. Students will be encouraged to take courses in Global Political Thought (convenor Dr Thiven Reddy), Comparative Politics (convenor Dr Zwelethu Jolobe) and South African Politics (convenor Prof Anthony Butler), among others.

Our other programmes, in IR, transformative justice, and public policy, increasingly have an African and/or South African focus. In International Relations Honours, for example, one key element of the core course is the study of African innovations in IR theory. Our public policy programmes focus on key policy challenges in SA. I am not able to comment in a fully informed way about all of these fields: for further information about our specializations, potential applicants should contact the programme convenors:

  • Politics programmes: Dr Thiven Reddy
  • International Relations programmes: A/Prof John Akokpari
  • Justice and Transformation programmes: Dr Helen Scanlon
  • Public Policy and Administration programmes: Dr Vinothan Naidoo

The overall postgraduate convenor is Dr Zwelethu Jolobe.

Employment equity

Although change in academic departments is sometimes slow, our department has been undergoing quite rapid generational change. One welcome outcome of this process has been the increasing representation of black South Africans and women among the academic staff. We fully expect this trend to continue and we are very active in searching for the best candidates to fill our vacancies while also advancing employment equity.

Staff Employment Equity Profile (2017-)

Full time academic staff (gender)

Male 8
Female 5

Full time academic staff (employment equity category)

Black 3
Col 1
Indian 2
White 4
Other** 3

**Non-SA citizens: 1 from Ghana, 2 from the UK

Postgraduate Recruitment

One response to your letter has been some concern that the department does not encourage applications from black South Africans. The Department collects data on the self-attributed race of the South African citizens admitted to our postgraduate programmes. This data is used for planning purposes and for monitoring the impact of our admissions policies. There has been a significant increase in the number of our postgraduate students who are Black South Africans in recent years, especially at Honours level. We are committed to making further progress in this direction, and especially at Master’s and PhD levels.

Equity category Level of enrolment 2016 Number of students
Black Hons 16
  Master’s 5
  Total Black 21
Coloured Hons 4
  Master’s 9
  Total Coloured 13
Indian Hons 1
  Master’s 2
  Total Indian 3
White Hons 13
  Master’s 10
  Total White 23
Undeclared* Hons 6
Master’s 7
Total Undeclared 13

*The category “undeclared” includes students who did not identify a racial group.

Earlier this year we established a plan further to increase the numbers of Black, Coloured and Indian students at Master’s as well as at Honours level, and to ensure that they thrive in our programmes. All staff members will this year participate in admission decisions in the programmes in which they teach. They will work together to identify students with potential and to support them once they are admitted.

Departmental governance

You identified in your letter what you believe is an unsatisfactory governance system in the Department, and an undemocratic leadership style on the part of the Head of Department. There may well be merit in these claims, although I believe HoDs face more constraints – budgetary, administrative, and legal — than their colleagues often realize.

As you know, my three-year term as HoD comes to an end in December 2016, and I am not putting my name forward for a second term. As I said when I took up the position in 2014, a three-year term is more than long enough for any incumbent. The process for deciding upon a new Head of Department is built upon consultation and consensus and it will undertaken by the faculty in the normal way.

The appointment of a new HoD will, I am sure, bring fresh energy, ideas, and leadership. It will also provide an excellent opportunity for the Department to discuss together how decisions should be taken under the new Head of Department and how the longer term strategic priorities of the department should be collectively identified and realized.

Requested correction

There is one passage in your open letter where I would like to ask for a correction.

In my email to you, I stated that, “I have received complaints from students and parents who believed the POL1005S lecture on 15 August was ‘disrupted’. They were confused about the purpose of the proceedings. They were uncertain about the educational value of the singing.”

You transcribed this as follows:

“[T]he HoD claims in his letter to be writing me because he had received complaints from ‘students and parents who believed the POL 1005S lecture on 15 August was “disrupted”’. They were confused about the purpose of the proceedings. They were uncertain about the educational value of the singing and stomping of feet (italics mine)’.”

I am not concerned here with how this error (the insertion of “stomping of feet (italics mine)” entered your narrative. However, the invention makes me deeply uneasy and I would be grateful if you could correct it in any versions of your letter posted on the Internet.

Towards the future

I know we all have the interests of our students at heart and I believe the Department as a whole has an immensely promising future. It is great privilege to spend time with such talented colleagues, and I am sure that we will all continue to work well together in the years ahead.

Yours sincerely

Prof Anthony Butler

Head of the Department of the Political Studies


10 September 2016

Appendix: Email from Anthony Butler to Lwazi Lushaba, 24 August 2016

From: Anthony Butler
Sent: 24 August 2016 02:38 PM
To: Lwazi Lushaba <lwazi.lushaba@uct.ac.za>
Cc: Dean of Humanities <hum-dean@uct.ac.za>; John Akokpari <john.akokpari@uct.ac.za>
Subject: Lwazi Lushaba lecture 15 August

Dear Lwazi

I am writing as promised in follow up to our conversation earlier today.

I have received complaints from students and parents who believed the POL1005S lecture on 15 August was ‘disrupted’. They were confused about the purpose of the proceedings. They were uncertain about the educational value of the singing. They highlighted the presence of at least one student interdicted from coming onto the campus who was invited to speak (Masixolo Mlandu). They noted that a petition was circulated calling for the reinstatement of excluded students.

As I explained earlier, academic staff and students are free to engage in political activity. However, a lecture is an opportunity for learning and not for political mobilisation. I am especially concerned that the educational purposes of such a lecture should be clearly explained to students.

I record here your response that the students were provided with an “experience” that you considered beneficial for them. I also record here your claim that you invited #RMF to come to the lecture and that you were not aware of the identities of individual speakers. I am not persuaded that either of these responses discharges your responsibilities to the students.

Please feel free to consult the convenor or me in future if you need to talk through what might or might not be appropriate in a lecture.

Best wishes


Prof Anthony Butler

Head of the Department of Political Studies

University of Cape Town

+27 (0)21 650 3384


2 Replies to “A year later, part 2: My response to Dr Lushaba’s “open letter””

  1. It is short sighted not to make data analysis compulsory in your Masters Program. This is a major weakness not only at UCT but African social sciences in general.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Omano. I’m inclined to agree. We used to have compulsory data analysis for Politics (but not for IR, Justice & Transformation or Public Policy programmes). Now we do not have it even for Politics (although it is available). There is not a consensus about this issue in the department.


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