Unban Ashwin Desai!

  • by: Raj Patel, none
  • recipient: Malegapuru William Makgoba, Vice-Chancellor, University of KwaZulu-Natal
A petition to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal to demand the unbanning of internationally acclaimed academic and activist, Ashwin Desai.

Dear Vice-Chancellor M. W. Makgoba

We the undersigned write to express our concern over your decision to bar Ashwin Desai from seeking a position at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). This decision constitutes a violation of a basic form of academic freedom: the right for anyone to be fairly considered for a position in the academic community for which they are qualified. We urge you to reconsider this decision and allow Ashwin Desai to apply and be fairly considered for paid (as well as honorary) positions at UKZN.

Ashwin Desai applied for a research position at the Human Sciences Research Council to undertake research on the history of race and sport in South Africa. Dr. Desai is an internationally recognized scholar, and one of the foremost researchers in the field of South African social sciences. His scholarship on the politics of poverty in Durban, his deep engagement with anti-apartheid struggle, and his history of research on sport in South Africa – including co-editing “Blacks in Whites - A century of Cricket Struggles in KwaZulu-Natal”  - clearly mark him as qualified for such a position and worthy of consideration. Yet you instructed the selection committee not to consider Dr. Desai's application.

Your university's Centre for Civil Society also asked that Dr. Desai be granted a position he previously held as an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre. This is an unpaid position that would enable him to participate in the life of university's academic community. You denied the Centre's request.

Your choose not to justify your banning of Dr. Desai on grounds of his academic ability, but on the grounds that, following his part in student protests against the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) in 1996, Dr. Desai made an agreement with the Vice Chancellor of UDW under which he resigned, and submitted to being banned from entering the campus.

Yet in 2003, Dr. Desai was appointed to the position of an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Natal's (UN) Centre for Civil Society. The University of Natal, clearly, had no objections to his appointment. Further, Saths Cooper, the then Vice-Chancellor of the UDW, lifted the ban against Dr. Desai from entering UDW. In 2003, UDW and UN were merged to form the UKZN.

It is hard to understand why, if the two units that formed the UKZN welcomed Dr. Desai's presence and participation in their academic communities in 2003, you should have decided only recently to resurrect an outdated banning order, and present this as the reason for your decision to exclude Dr. Desai from an intellectual community in which he has long been central. You have suggested that the matter is out of your hands, and remains a purely administrative matter, yet this disingenuous. You are sole author of this reversal in policy. The only reason that Dr. Desai has been removed from campus, is your unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious interpretation of university regulations.

Such a move, and its accompanying explanations, constitutes a blatant violation of Ashwin Desai's academic freedom. Moreover, many who looked to the new South Africa as a model of democracy and human rights will find it equally hard to understand why someone like Dr. Desai, who has consistently stood up for those who suffered under apartheid and neoliberal economic policies, should be victimized in this way

We the undersigned demand that you lift your ban against Ashwin Desai and allow him to be considered for the paid positions he has applied for at the UKZN, as well as being fully reinstated to his honorary research position at the Centre for Civil Society, so that the university, and the world, can continue to benefit from the advanced social scientific research and supervision of which he has shown himself uniquely capable.

Sincerely yours,

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