Defend Truth


How about a qualifications TRC, Professor Bozzoli?


Busani Ngcaweni is Director-General of the National School of Government, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Whereas one has little if any sympathy for the former chair of the SABC board, and while I shun poor scholarship and intellectual mediocrity, I am however less moved by Belinda Bozzoli’s Politicsweb missive against Prof Mbulaheni Maguvhe. And to close the year properly, let’s put some facts on record – not that Bozzoli will be moved herself, for history suggests otherwise.

South Africa has hundreds of black and white “academic” charlatans with spectacularly poor records. Maguvhe, as Bozzoli contends, has an average academic record, just like many in the academe.

Whatever the facts, if indeed it is valid that Maguvhe is not professor material, only unconscientious observers would be surprised by such “revelations”, since he would just be a black face in the deep sea of academic fraud dating back decades.

Yes, “professor” Maguvhe made a fool of himself in broad daylight while appearing before a parliamentary committee probing shenanigans at the public broadcaster. By his own account, there was no board for months at the SABC, yet he insisted on remain a “chair” of a non-existent board. His futile and costly legal challenges will haunt him for years to come.

As for his credentials, he probably got promoted to a professorship through networks and other equity considerations at Unisa. Bozzoli claims that he published in sub-standard journals. I doubt she read the content though, for scholarship must be judged on substance, primarily. I also doubt she factored in the translation part.

However, Bozzoli’s slating of another academic mustn’t fool us, for thousands of shady journal articles (many in Afrikaans) are found in local libraries where white academics have published to earn professorship. Maguvhe is not the only academic to earn a promotion by publishing in those journals that Bozzoli is rating – the last time I checked it was the Higher Education Department that accredited journals in South Africa with journals distinguishing themselves through international citation indexes that objectively made conclusions on the impact of individual journals. 

Still, thousands of white professors have no PhDs and laughable peer reviewed publications records. They hardly appear on GoogleScholar, ISI Web of Science, Scopus and other databases where serious scholars are found. Yet, like the former head of the Wits journalism school, Bozzoli’s former faculty colleague, they make decisions on postgraduate and other significant faculty matters. They admit, fail or pass students. They assess fellow academics – some more accomplished than these “senior” white academics.

So, Bozzoli might marvel at the scoop she stumbled across – she was obviously given the information by her DA friends in the academy, just like her son was given the “scoop” about Pallo Jordan.

But her claim to fame will be short-lived as we can’t be fooled.

Even Bozzoli herself can’t claim not to have profited from incestous networks to earn a professorship from Wits where her father was a top administrator. It is unthinkable that under apartheid a child of a vice chancellor couldn’t make a meteoric rise in the academy. Not under apartheid. Those who know the story of Verwoerd’s ascent in the 1920s would know what I am talking about. It took him a handful of years to earn a professorship – all part of the design. Whether in English medium or Afrikaans medium universities, white academics were privileged and promoted through incestous networks and associations that continue to operate in the democratic South Africa. These networks are crucial for peer reviewing each other, co-publishing, arranging publishing deals, citing each other and other self-promotion mechanisms. 

As for Bozzoli’s own publications, is it not a coincidence that many are with Wits Press and journals historically controlled by Wits academics. It is how the system works.

Again I ask, how could Wits Press and other Wits-linked journals (local and international) create stumbling blocks for the daughter of the celebrated former vice chancellor? 

Few black academics enjoy these privileges. Note, I am not casting aspersions on the quality of Bozzoli’s writings for I have neither read nor intend to read them. The point is, many blacks with quality manuscripts struggle to get publishing deals, either books or journals. There is a lot of gatekeeping in the academic world which is controlled by the same apartheid-era networks with a stranglehold on knowledge production. 

Before I forget, it makes for interesting reading that Bozzoli was part of a gang that haunted William Makgoba out of management at Wits. Yes, a distinguished scientist was vilified by Bozzoli, her husband and others. They questioned his academic record. As historical records now show, they just couldn’t live with the reality that a black man had a superior academic record to theirs, not least in natural sciences. In the end Professor Makgoba left Wits and distinguished himself and UKZN vice chancellor. Some of the gang members also left Wits; others committed suicide. They couldn’t bear the idea of black deputy vice chancellor with such a superior international record. Maybe the feared that this would become a trend thus posing an existential threat of sort.

Chief Albert Luthuli explains this aptly:

“The trouble [with whites] is that they credit us with their own ambitions. They mislead themselves by believing that we too have master-race aspirations. And since they see things in those terms, they terrify themselves into an attitude which knows only two alternatives – dominate or perish.”

That could be the only logical explanation as to why people would be so terrified of Makgoba and lead a scandalous campaign against him. 

Perhaps we need a truth and reconciliation commission, Professor Bozzoli? There is so much hurt, hidden agendas and remnants of the past in academe. The legacy of colonialism and apartheid persists.

Through a TRC, all professors and doctors must come out and declare their qualifications and publications. Maybe all professors should be regraded using a transparent criterion, starting with those who graduated and got promotions in the dying days of apartheid?

Stories abound that whereas black academics need PhDs and heaps of publications to earn a professorship, white academics have just been strolling into this elite league. Much the same as black professionals elsewhere in corporate South Africa who must work harder to prove themselves against mediocre counterparts who earn significantly more than blacks in similar positions.

Bozzoli will become my personal hero the day she calls for a TRC, with full disclosure of all the shenanigans in academia and the publishing sector in particular.

Let everyone declare, especially those who became professors before 1994 and those who wrote articles and books in Afrikaans, relying on close relationships for peer review, supervision and publishing.

Just this month the Human Rights Commission issued findings on racism, sexism, elitism and white privilege in the academe. Yes, white academics are privileged even post-1994 through the stubborn historical barriers created to block transformation. That is why UCT has only one South African female full professor – something Bozzoli should be demanding accountability on as shadow minister of higher education. Those are scandals greater than the replaceable Maguvhe.

Forgetting that Chris Hart was a head honcho at Standard Bank with such a poor academic record (and no serious economics training) and that Anton Harber headed the Wits shool of journalism with a lousy BA is like forgetting that white people once oppressed us. 

We can’t. We will never forget injustice.

As part of this TRC, Professor Bozzoli and everyone else will have an opportunity also to declare demographic statistics of postgraduate students they have produced and co-authored with. Like in many professions, most academics are assisted by their supervisors to get started. Let’s see how committed people have been to equity and transformation. That too matters as the spotlight shifts to searching for Maguvhe’s students. 

A TRC might just be what we need, especially now that students have won the decolonisation argument – something Bozzoli hasn’t openly supported because it threatens liberal scholarship which privileges monopolistic anti-African modernity.

So, as we march into the new year, let’s gaze at the past, take full ownership of what has happened, and map a future based on a common vision of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa where the knowledge production system is totally transformed, with no holy cows. Academia should assist black people to rediscover their ontological density and epistemic virtue. The rules of the game must be fair and equitable. DM

Ngcaweni is co-editor of Nelson R Mandela: Decolonial Ethics of Liberation and Servant Leadership (Africa World Press) and Deputy Director-General & Head of the Private Office of the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. 


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.