UCT’s conduct up in flames

James Berrange Pinelands.

I read with sadness and concern about David Goldblatt’s decision to remove his priceless photographic collection from UCT to Yale – a foreign university in a foreign country (“South Africa loses heritage artwork”, Tatler, March 23).

That a South African of Goldblatt’s stature should feel so strongly about doing such a thing is a terrible indictment on UCT as a place of learning.

I read the statement you issued with similar feelings of dismay. While you were quick to wave the battle flag of intellectual freedom, citing such noble causes as “respect for other views” and “guidelines of the profession’s Code of Conduct and Ethics”, I have to bring attention to the misinterpretation of the word “intellectual”.

Many of the expressions UCT has seen fit to tolerate these last few years have not been intellectual, tolerant or ethical in any shape or form.

Rather, it seems UCT is happy to allow expressions of any kind, however irrelevant, uncivilised, ignorant, distasteful or destructive they may be.

Space prohibits me from supplying a list of events.

Speaking of art and artists, and going by the tone of your reply, I doubt you are fully aware of the horror with which many civilised people viewed the burning of paintings from the UCT art collection, in public, on the steps of UCT, not long ago.

One can only assume the Code of Conduct and Ethics was put on hold that day.

For many of us, it was an ultimate demonstration of intolerance and disrespect.

It reminded me of the book-burning by the Nazis in WWII where the destruction of anyone’s culture but their own was the order of the day.

Closer to home, it was a stark reminder of how UCT views its own history and culture, and how it allows that history and culture, revered by many more people than attend UCT today, to be treated.

Regarding the David Goldblatt collection, and given the precedent created by UCT around the destruction of art, my question to you is quite simple : did you honestly expect someone of Goldblatt’s standing to sit back and risk watching yet another irreplaceable chapter of South African culture and history go up in flames at the hands of an intolerant, unethical and wilfully destructive minority?

I would have been very surprised if he had.