Failing the hate test

2015-05-31 15:00

It would be irresponsible for any seasoned thought leader in this country to arrive at the conclusion that former Wits students’ representative council (SRC) president Mcebo Dlamini’s Facebook posts regarding Adolf Hitler, which suggested that all white people in South Africa are somewhat racist, are justified.

These remarks have no place in the nonracial society that we are trying to build and must, therefore, be condemned as they have been by all who were agitated by these problematic comments.

Those who want to defend the comments of this erstwhile Wits student leader may want to opportunistically employ the constitutional right of freedom of expression.

However, even that section of the Constitution, before we get to the limitations clause, clarifies that the “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion” in the Bill of Rights as a cornerstone of our democracy is not permissible.

Over and beyond the non-constitutionality of Dlamini’s comments, even factually, his assertions will not pass the test of analysis because history has recorded a lot of white people who are not just nonracist, but have practically fought against racism in this country.

Some white people in South Africa, although a few, have paid lip service to nonracism, but others have gone so far as committing what Marxists would call class suicide.

In doing so, they have joined the black working class’ real liberation struggle, which seeks to deracialise the means of production and consumption given the racist structure of apartheid capitalism.

This stance has also cut across institutions of higher learning, like Wits University, which are cardinal pillars of knowledge production in this country.

After all, the lack of racism without supporting transformation is obviously politically dishonest.

This political dishonesty has been a veil at Wits University for many decades, where a lot of so-called white liberals claim to be nonracist in their orientation, yet participate in the agenda against transformation.

Such tendencies tend to mislead the likes of Dlamini to make immature and emotional conclusions about all white people, which is very unfortunate.

Be all of the above as it may, the injudicious comments made by Dlamini do not accord the Wits administration the right to suspend a democratically elected leader of students from his position of SRC president.

This decision, in my view, does not just meddle in the affairs of independent student governance, but goes a bit too far and sets the wrong political precedent.

By its nature and content, it gives too much power to the Wits administration to remotely control the student leadership and can be used to settle scores with student leaders when they disagree with the administration on key issues of transformation.

Students at Wits should have been allowed the political space to make an independent determination on whether they want to keep their president or not – even under these testing circumstances.
For the administration to go so far as mobilising students and even previous student leaders to legitimise Dlamini’s removal suggests that there is more than meets the eye.

In the aftermath of the drama created by Dlamini’s statements, people like the president of the Wits Convocation, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, came out in support of the efforts led by Professor Adam Habib to create a climate of acceptance for the suspension of the student leader.

In a statement carefully crafted to support Habib, Phakeng contends that Dlamini “isolated himself from the broader aspirations of his constituency”.

Superficially, this may sound correct, but it is the students themselves who must tell us – through the independent ballot box of student governance or other democratic political means – that Dlamini does not represent them, not the administration.

Otherwise, this reduces the SRC to a prefect system that a lot us fought vehemently against during our days on that cold campus as part of the struggle to transform that university from an institution of higher learning that defended racism to one that serves our new nonracial democracy.

It is against this background that some of us as progressive previous SRC presidents of that university, who are still in touch with the burning issues, refuse to join the innocent choir of condemning Dlamini without critically assessing the agenda of the conductors as an off-ramp to remove focus from the real transformation project.

Magogodi is a previous Wits SRC president 
Read more on:    mcebo dlamini

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