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UCT alumni urged to vote for council



University of Cape Town (UCT) alumni have the chance to change the trajectory of their alma mater by voting in a crucial ballot for four new candidates to the institution’s highest decision-making body.

The university, which has played a vital role in the lives and careers of many in the South Africa Jewish community, has recently seen unprecedented antisemitism on campus. In addition, in recent years the institution has suffered unprecedented protests and discord, intimidation, cancel culture, leadership crises, and financial challenges.

Alumni have until 23 April to have their say in the future of their university by casting their ballot for the four new candidates to the UCT Council.

The council’s responsibilities include determining the mission, objectives, goals, strategies, and policies for the progress of the institution. It has the responsibility of maintaining and ensuring a financially secure, healthy, and viable environment, and accounting for all decisions taken at UCT, including the submission of required reports and documents to the education minister.

Three nominees standing for these prestigious and important positions are Jewish: legal academic, criminal justice consultant, and Herzlia alumnus Kelly Phelps; Professor Emeritus Brian Kantor; and Advocate Mark Oppenheimer.

“For generations, the University of Cape Town has been regarded as the greatest university on the African continent. It has been a place for all people to excel, to learn about the riches of human knowledge, and to build a better South Africa,” Oppenheimer says.

“Jews have played an important role at UCT, and we have thrived in the top echelons of its staff and student body,” he says. “However, in recent years, Jews have been made to feel unsafe and unwelcome, and many have fled the campus to other universities or other countries. I intend to help restore UCT to its former glory, and ensure that all staff and students are able to flourish in an environment free from persecution.”

All three are looking to help restore stability and support the university’s commitment to academic excellence and freedom. They are joined by David Ansara, the chief executive of the Free Market Foundation (FMF), a classical liberal think tank headquartered in Johannesburg, who told the SA Jewish Report, “Like many in the Jewish community, I’m increasingly concerned by the intolerance of dissenting views and the threats to academic freedom displayed at the University of Cape Town.

“The FMF frequently engages in public advocacy and strategic litigation which aligns with the interests of the Jewish community. For example, the FMF’s Rule of Law Project joined proceedings in the hate speech case against Bongani Masuku in the Constitutional Court, which held Masuku liable for his antisemitic remarks. He later apologised unconditionally to the Jewish community.

“The Rule of Law Project also drafted a legal opinion which was used by lawyers opposing UCT’s academic boycott of Israel in 2019. Our submission argued that the academic boycott would be illegal, and ultimately persuaded the UCT Council to oppose the boycott,” says Ansara. “For Jews and other minorities to thrive in South Africa, we need institutions of higher learning to promote and protect a diversity of political beliefs. The only way to achieve this is through a vigorous defence of academic freedom and free expression. This will be my main focus on the Council.”

Ansara also says he’s concerned by the “recent governance and financial problems that have affected the university. The legacy of disputations in student life and unstable leadership have wrought enormous damage to a once respected institution.”

Therefore, as a member of council, he’ll assist in “appointing a suitably qualified leadership team based solely on its competency and personal integrity, and developing a strategy to address the growing funding crisis confronting the university”.

Kantor has had a long association with UCT, where he served as lecturer, senior lecturer, professor of economics, head of the school of economics, and dean of the faculty of commerce. His career includes stints as a visiting professor at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York.

“My purpose in serving on the governing council would be to help the university to serve the best interests of its students and academics, and by doing so, serve the welfare of the South African nation, which depends upon the contributions made by its universities,” he says.

“These interests are best served by the university pursuing excellence in teaching and research. As a member of its governing council, I would actively promote UCT as one of but a few elite South African universities – elite in the measured quality of the student and academic bodies that could compete with the best universities anywhere.

“Good teaching and excellent research have a symbiotic relationship,” says Kantor. “I would encourage all academic staff to engage in the classroom fully and enthusiastically, and to share their research-based insights actively with broader society. I would hope to improve the governance of UCT by diligently applying my experience and values.”

Phelps, who spent 18 years teaching at UCT and left a year and a half ago, says she’s willing to return to the institution in this role because she has been “at the frontlines of the university when it had everything from protests to leadership crises, and I’ve seen how unstable leadership can cause enormous strain on staff and students and the quality of education. The institution requires stable, ethical, responsible, and reliable leadership.”

All UCT alumni are members of the convocation by default, which gives them the right to vote four members of UCT convocation onto the council. They should have received an email about the vote. If not, they may request a username and password by emailing, with “voter registration” as the subject line.

In the email, they should include their student number if known; their surname; previous surname at the time of graduating if applicable; first names; date of birth using the YYYYMMDD format; year(s) of graduation; and degree(s)/diploma(s) obtained.

Once their standing as a member of convocation has been verified, a username, password, and voting instructions will be sent to them by email. The registration process will close at 16:00 South African Standard Time on 22 April 2024, and the vote for the council will close on 23 April 2024. To learn more about the candidates and their visions, visit

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