UJ calls anti-Obama claim senseless and racist

2013-06-26 08:37

University of Johannesburg (UJ) deputy vice-chancellor Tinyiko Maluleke has called an anti-Obama statement made by members of the “No you can’t honour Obama” petition racist and illogical.

Maluleke was referring to their statement that “honouring a famous black American like Obama covers up institutional racism where 60% of students drop out ...”

Maluleke said the statement made no sense: “The university pass rate is a matter of national concern all over South Africa. I don’t see the connection between that problem and Obama receiving an honorary doctorate.

“There is inherent racism in that statement. It sounds like they are saying Obama being black is part of the problem.”

The “No you can’t honour Obama” petition was initiated by the UJ SRC, ANC Youth League, Sasco, the Young Communist League and Muslim Students’ Association and other organisations.

A leader of the petition, Ibrahim Patel, said UJ was seeking publicity: “There are issues that affect students that they are doing nothing about, but they want to focus on something that does not affect students.”

Patel said the issue was dividing the university.

But only about 100 people were present at the “No you can’t honour Obama” protest on June 22 at UJ’s Kingsway campus.

Said Maluleke: “To be generous, we could say 50% of those people were UJ members, less than 1% of the UJ community.”

Patel said the small turnout at the protest meant nothing, because “we had representatives from organisations like the UJ SRC, ANCYL and the Young Communist (League), so even though the number of people there was small, they represented thousands of other people”.

Patel said that the low turnout could also be attributed to the fact that it is holiday time and many students are at home.

Maluleke said the decision to confer an honorary degree on Obama, or not to do so, would be determined by due process and not how different organisations felt. “If we did that, we would never make any decisions.”

He said that the suggestion to offer Obama an honorary doctorate had gone through a rigorous, formal and regular process.

“First, the suggestion was put forward to an honorary degree committee. They were unanimous in their decision to offer Obama the doctorate.”

Maluleke said the decision then went to senate where it received votes from two-thirds of the members: “If the matter had got less than two-thirds, it would have then been rejected.”

According to Maluleke, the matter is now at council and they will announce their decision within a day.

Maluleke also mentioned that the SRC and members of staff were represented in senate, so the claims they make about not being consulted are not true.

Patel said the university did not follow correct procedure: “The agenda is sent out seven days before the meeting is held, but in this case the agenda had no mention of Obama receiving an honorary doctorate.”

Also, he claims, it is not UJ policy to honour a serving politician and Obama does not meet the criteria for receiving an honorary doctorate: “Exceptional contribution to a field of academics and/or significant contribution towards creating a better life for all.”

US embassy spokesperson Jack Hillmeyer said the claim by those who supported the petition that Obama did not respect peace in other countries was false and that his visit to Africa was a demonstration of that commitment.

“But we respect people’s right to freedom of speech and everyone has the right to an opinion,” said Hillmeyer.

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