Court win for peace

2016-11-22 06:00
Professor Brian Williams celebrates victory for his peaceful purpose after he was cleared in court. PHOTO: gary van dyk

Professor Brian Williams celebrates victory for his peaceful purpose after he was cleared in court. PHOTO: gary van dyk

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His reputation for peace has been restored for Kensington’s Professor Brian Williams, who is celebrating a court ruling that clears his name of inciting violence at UWC.

It has taken just over a year, but on Tuesday 15 November Western Cape High Court Judge Patrick Gamble ruled against the suspensions of Williams and his colleague Songezo Maqula from the UWC council. Williams was chairperson of the council when he was suspended.

This victory for the pair has its start in October last year at the start of the #FeesMustFall social movement.

Williams explains that what started as a peaceful protest turned violent. A public meeting with the theme of prayers for peace was hosted on Sunday 31 October.

“As the name suggests, this event was intended to engender a sense of calm among students through introspection and the intercession of religious leaders.

“Both of us attended and addressed the gathering to make a constructive contribution to bringing peace to the campus.”

The nightmare for Williams and his colleague began at the next meeting of the council in November when a late agenda item was added, claiming that they had incited violence.

“The unsigned complaint was lodged on the letterhead of the SRC, claiming that our conduct was inflammatory,” he says.

“We were suspended from the council and we tried to convene a meeting where the matter could be discussed amicably, but to no avail and we had to take the matter to court.”

When Gamble overturned the suspensions, he also ordered that the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, take appropriate steps against the unlawful conduct of another member of the council, Ongokposte JJ Tabane, saying an inquiry into his fitness to hold office is justified.

The judge also ordered that the incumbent chair of the UWC council, Mthunzi Mdwaba, be investigated.

Williams is overjoyed at this judgement but feels that it is also a victory for the reputation of UWC. “It’s a great relief because I work professionally in the field of peace, mediation, conflict transformation and labour relations. My good name and integrity are thus essential factors in the work that I do. Clients must trust me and I need to have an impeccable reputation untainted by scandal.

“The allegation that I was linked to violence and incitement was damaging to my personal and professional reputation. I was prejudiced, personally and economically. My family also had to endure the pain of these false accusations.”

Williams explains that from the start of these allegations he and Maqula knew they would not give up on restoring their reputation at the university and in the community.

“The thought of giving up never crossed our minds,” he says. “If we had to give up then the university would have been in grave danger. In the judgement the judge slams the council (the executive authority and supreme decision-making body for the university) when he states that it was deeply troubling to read of the blatant disregard on the part of the majority of members of the council for the rule of law.

“We had to go to court to protect ourselves and the university and the simple lesson is that we must always stand firm and resist oppressive and unlawful behaviour, no matter who commits these wrongful acts. But, more than courage is needed. You must have a peaceful and clean heart, clear tactics and strategy and principled solidarity from others.”

Now that the judgement has been delivered Williams still feels that he can play an important part at the university by remaining principled and acting in the best interests of the university.

In response to the judgement, Luthando Tyhalibongo, UWC spokesperson, says the university council will discuss the matter at its forthcoming meetings.

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