In 2018, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng’s celebrated an honours thesis produced by a black political studies student, Masixole Mlandu, which ended with the genocidal slogan: “ONE SETTLER‚ ONE BULLET!!” This interaction took place over Twitter where the student posted images of his work. Phakeng’s celebratory tweet was stated as follows:
“Congratulations dear son on completing this paper! I would like to study it at some stage. In the meantime, let me be kliye: i am proud of you! Way more than you can imagine! Welldone!”
Phakeng’s celebration of this student’s paper (Mlandu was in several of my seminars last year) is controversial as the slogan demonizes the entire white population of South Africa (around five million) as constituting “settlers” in light of the country’s colonial history. The term “settler” is a derogatory reference to the country’s white population and is one that was used historically by the black consciousness movement the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania’s armed wing APLA. This wing carried out a series of attacks against civilian targets that killed numerous people in the early 1990s, including at a church and at a pub near to UCT itself. The slogan thus constitutes a call for the physical elimination of white South Africans.
It is also absurd logically to refer to white South Africans today as settlers, not only because nearly every white person living in the country in the present was born here, but also given that South Africa has been a democratic state since the end of apartheid almost 30 years ago. Equally obscene it would be for us to sweep under the carpet the systemic and structural challenges this country faces across the racial spectrum due to apartheid’s legacy and the lamentable governance since apartheid’s end, which has left millions unemployed, homeless, living in subpar, unhygienic environments, without access to decent education, and more. This noted, it remains my contention, as a white individual and student at UCT, that demonizing whites as settlers is deeply offensive and grossly unhelpful for purposes of racial and cultural reconciliation.
That this slogan propagated by Mlandu advocating for the massacre of an entire group of people based on their race is the very reason why we should object to it in the strongest possible terms. We should object not only to this student’s genocidal fetishes but also to other individuals, especially those in the sphere of leadership like Phakeng, who appear to overlook such evil sentiments where and when they emerge. We should all know much better than to promote slogans that are underpinned by racial hatred in light of this county’s history in which human rights violations were commonplace on racial and cultural grounds. However, only when Phakeng’s celebration of this thesis received backlash over social media did she quickly dodge any notion of her supporting it. Her response was as follows:
But this apparent half-attempt to distance herself from “promises of bullets” is in my mind unconvincing. Firstly, Phakeng was likely aware of the slogan before she took to celebrating Mlandu’s completion of his thesis over Twitter. Had a similarly hateful slogan been included in a thesis by a white student, perhaps wishing for the re-introduction of apartheid against blacks or any other race, Phakeng would almost certainly have denounced the paper in the harshest terms and cared little about how much effort and time the white student put into writing it, or from what background that student came. If such a case really occurred it would almost certainly be insufficient for Phakeng simply to distance herself from the white student’s paper. In fact, there would have been calls to action against the student to be made an example of. But why has this not happened to Mlandu who has disturbing fetishes of massacring an entire people based on their race? Why did I see Mlandu in my class last year, several months later after he finished his paper? Such rhetoric needs more than simply distancing; it needs to be denounced by the institution and shown for the evil that it is.
Further, it boggles the mind that Mlandu’s supervisor somehow condoned this slogan. My own experience having written a thesis (and in the process of writing another) is that one’s supervisor is intimately acquainted with his/her student’s work throughout the time he or she is writing it. Almost certainly was Mlandu’s supervisor aware of this but decided to give the slogan the green light. Digging a bit deeper suggests that this is not actually surprising since Mlandu’s supervisor, Lwazi Lushaba, is a black professor and decolonialist thinker who has similarly controversial views of white people. Not only does Lushaba evidently think he his still living in the era of apartheid but he has also stated that “a time will come along soon when we [blacks] will run UCT on our own and give them [whites] a new value system and not at the whim of ‘White’ sentiment” (1). Lushaba has also moaned that too many white females were in his class and stated (in the form of an exam question) that whites and blacks cannot be friends; a view he expects his students to have since they were given no chance to disagree (we will visit these in subsequent analyses). This considered, we should really not be surprised that Mlandu’s slogan was viewed as appropriate, as racist ideologues think alike. I also saw Lushaba teaching a politics class less than two weeks ago; has any action been taken over his views of whites?
Further, the following day Mlandu, having himself too received backlash, did not apologize or retract his slogan but in fact expanded his point on Twitter by tweeting:
UCT, it must be said, did come out to distance itself from Mlandu’s slogan. However, for an institution that openly states to prohibit “all forms of racism and racial harassment, and will act against both through staff and student procedures outlined in this policy and other disciplinary procedures” this is a disappointing response. But some academics at the university did chime in. David Benatar, a philosophy professor at UCT, and Anton Fagan, a law professor, condemned Mlandu’s slogan stating that we ought to be offended and outraged by it,
“Exactly what Mr Mlandu meant by his Tweets is not clear. He may have meant them as a call for a genocide against millions of his fellow South Africans. Or he may have meant them only to express the view that such a genocide would be desirable or would be deserved by its victims. Either way, the tweeted words are morally repugnant. Reasonable people, whether or not they identify themselves as “settlers”, will and should be outraged by them” (2).
The Institute for Race Relations is equally concerned of the climate at UCT,
“That these sorts of ideas are now finding their way into formal academic work is symptomatic of the university’s intransigence on the subject, and its inability or refusal to take a stand in the face of a pandemic that is spiralling out of control and infecting everything. And that no less a figure than the vice-chancellor herself was willing to congratulate a student on a thesis that formalises hate, uncritically and without reservation – only in the face of a public backlash did she [VC Phakeng] express any concern – is indicative of the present environment at UCT” (3).
2. Benatar, David., and Fagon, Anton. 2018. On the genocidal fantasies of Masixole Mlandu. Available.
3. Institute of Race Relations. 2018. UCT becoming an epicentre for hate and intolerance – IRR.