Claims in a debate on the removal of controversial Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini that Vice Chancellor (VC) Adam Habib was appeasing the white and Jewish communities, prompted an emotional response from the rector on Thursday night.
Students claimed that the “speedy” decision by Habib to remove Dlamini from his position was based on pressure from the Jewish community over comments the former SRC leader made on admiring Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and not for a separate matter, as claimed by Habib.
“I am a critic of the Israeli state – I was the only VC to write about the incursion into Gaza,” Habib told the students in a strained voice, slamming his first against the desk at the front of the lecture hall.
He said a critique of Israel was not a critique of Jews.
“How did we go from the critique of Israel… to talking about all Jews. It’s racist and anti-Semitic,” he said.
Habib said a struggle for transformation could not be launched by “saying whites are like this and Jews are like this”.
“I have read [Steve] Biko and [Franz] Fanon… that is not what they wrote.”
When he was heckled by students, Habib pointed at them and shouted: “I read them… let me come and teach you.”
Dlamini has come under heavy criticism following a recent Facebook post in which he said: “I love Adolf Hitler… There is an element of Hitler in every white person.”
He subsequently defended his comments, and refused to apologise.
He admitted that it would be ignorant of him to ignore the fact that Hitler had committed atrocious crimes against the Jewish people. However, what he admired, he said, was the German’s leader ability to organise a nation and get the people to rally behind him.
A formal debate at the start of proceedings, which Habib was not present for, discussed the timing of the decision against Dlamini and whether it was “influenced.”
The Wits Debating Union, however, did mention that what the debaters said was not necessarily their individual views.
Naomi Lubinsky, who acknowledged being a white Jewish student said that despite Habib saying that his decision on Dlamini was not based on his comments, it did influence his decision.
“Instead of taking it to the people who voted Dlamini in, what he does when he makes a unilateral decision is he has legitimised the idea that this is a white Jewish university,” she said.
Lubinsky said when the Holocaust was discussed it was only about the six million Jews who died, and there was no mention of the 11 million “people” who perished.
“It becomes about one people suffering and it diminishes the suffering of others.”
Another student Athi Nangamso Nkopo said the decision was made after “a white power was able to put the boot on someone”.
“We could continue to pander to white and Jewish interests so that one day they will give us a job… but then there will be no transformation,” she said.
“His action… is something that could go to the high court, and the Constitutional Court. He infringed on peoples’ rights. Because he puts us in this position, we think Adam Habib must fall.”
Her comments prompted the other students in the room to chant: “He must fall”.
In his response Oliver Dixon said Dlamini was in fact removed for the other charges against him and not because of his Hitler comments.
“He had two charges of assault against him. It is with actions that this that women in the university don’t feel safe and feel they have to wait for security guards [to move around].”
He said the team arguing for Dlamini did not provide any proof.
A chorus of boos
Cebo Gila argued that as a black student, he did not think it was appropriate to support Dlamini.
“If Adolf Hitler was alive today, even to his biggest fan Dlamini, he would be called a kaffir,” he said.
“We think it is unfair to defend the rights of a black guy, who defended a white guy who would have hated blacks.”
The debate was later opened up to rest of the students. Habib then arrived to a chorus of boos.
Most posed questions to him over his decision to sack Dlamini from the SRC.
He reiterated a statement he issued earlier in the week saying that Dlamini was found guilty of misconduct by a disciplinary panel in February and given a sentence of one year suspended exclusion in respect of each charge against him – The content of the charges were not mentioned in the statement or on Thursday night.
Following several consultations with Dlamini, over his position as SRC president and a review of the panel’s sanction, the decision to remove him from the position, as mandated by the SRC constitution, was delayed.
“I said to him three days before the Hitler comment, that he has to stand down,” Habib said on Thursday.
“If I had acted on his Hitler comment, why did I start the process three days before? It only happened because I am a prophet and I knew he would say it,” he joked.
Habib said Dlamini had also told someone who responded negatively to his post: “I will kill you and I will kill your children”.
In response to the claims of “Jewish influence”, Habib said: “There is an assumption in certain circles that Jewish donors run the university. That is factually wrong.”
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