The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has announced the closure of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) as of 31 December 2008.
According to CCS Director, Prof Patrick Bond, he and his staff were summoned to a meeting on 30 July 2008 and advised the centre was being permanently closed at the end of the year. All CCS staff contracts, besides Bond's, would be terminated, with CCS’s "good" projects moved to the School for Development Studies at UKZN.
Bond states that the reason for the decision - that the long-term financial viability of CCS was not secure - is a red herring as the CCS has a healthy surplus with many new incoming funding commitments. CCS staff members are unanimous that this decision should be reconsidered and will be lodging an appeal in this regard.
The UKZN decision comes at a time when South Africa can ill-afford to lose critical and independent institutions such as the CCS to inform public debate and present alternatives to government policy.
Given this, civil society organisations are requested to register their objection to this decision and support the CCS in its attempts to secure its long-term future.
Messages from eminent local and international academics and other interested parties continue to be posted on the CCS website which also carries a formal review of CCS carried out between September 2007 and February 2008. The review concluded with a recommendation advocating for strengthening the centre and giving it more autonomy, directly opposite to the decision to close the CCS.
Amongst other things, the review states: "Through its international recognition and standing, CCS has put UKZN on a world map in social science, a position the University dare not risk to lose."
The objective of the CCS is to advance socio-economic and environmental justice by developing critical knowledge about, for and in dialogue with civil society through teaching, research and publishing. It was officially launched at UKZN in 2002 with the mission of promoting the study of South African civil society as a legitimate, flourishing area of scholarly activity.
Since inception, the CCS has gained local and international recognition for its research output and contribution to critical debates about development policy.
The UKZN claims it has South Africa's second best research profile, with the CCS staff’s peer-reviewed articles, chapters and books - 58 in 2007 with an average 50 a year since 2005 - ranking them top of the university measured per academic employee. In addition, the CCS hosts nearly 100 free events a year, including seminars, conferences, film festivals, literary celebrations and the Harold Wolpe Lecture series.
Yale University's Prof Immanuel Wallerstein, a world renowned sociologist, wrote a letter to UKZN last week stating that he was appalled to learn of the imminent closure of the CCS. "…the single most prestigious activity of the UKZN, at least as seen from a United States vantage-point, is the CCS. Those of us who try to follow what is going on in South Africa have come to rely upon the CCS as the best single source of wide information. Closing it down would not only damage severely UKZN's reputation but would set back research worldwide on contemporary South Africa”, he said.
COSATU has also raised its dismay at the UKZN decision to close the CCS.
If you would like to register your objection to the closure of the CCS, please send an e-mail message to Patrick Bond at email@example.com or fax to (031) 260-2052. These messages of support will be posted on the CCS website.
Alternatively, sign the petition "Hands off the CCS" here