Last week we spoke to Wits University students who expressed, if not solidarity with former Students Representative Council (SRC) president Mcebo Dlamini, then definite disapproval of vice chancellor Adam Habib’s decision to remove him. In light of a recent protest earlier calling for Dlamini’s reinstatement, MUHAMMED ISMAIL BULBULIA spoke to more Wits students to get a broader perspective.
Katleho Mchalla, third year BA, 20, Little Falls
I can sum this up with a one-liner: if the decision was perfectly
constitutional, then I have no problem with it. If Mcebo’s Hitler
comments had any role to play in Habib’s decision, then I don’t see
what the problem is: his comments were deplorable, and given the
position that he holds he should have been a lot more responsible.
Naturally, any praise of Hitler is going to bring an individual and
the institution that individual represents into disrepute. However, we cannot simply write Mcebo off for that – every person has good and bad elements, and every leader is bound to do things for which people applaud him and, conversely, jeer at him. I’ve got my reservations about the fact that Mcebo is completely democratically elected, if you take into account that just over 10% of students voted in the SRC elections, and an even smaller number people elected him to presidency. It’s not really our loss.
James Hunt, first year medicine, 19, Kyalami
I think [Dlamini’s removal] is justified because he was given warning – the decision didn’t come out of nowhere and there was adequate time given to Mcebo to appeal the ruling of the disciplinary charges. I don’t know what Habib was thinking when he arrived at his decision to remove Mcebo, but I do think that the Hitler comments definitely put pressure on Habib to seem like he was taking action. What I read is that according to the SRC’s constitution, a student cannot be president if they’ve been found guilty of disciplinary charges, and if Mcebo has been found guilty, then the decision is fair. Everybody has the right to freedom of speech, but when a public figure makes statements of hate speech, like this case, then there has to be some form of accountability. As SRC president, Mcebo has a responsibility to uphold Wits’ good name, and that overrules his right to say whatever he wants.
Itumeleng Mmila, second year BCom, 20
Basically, as an individual I don’t follow politics that much, but I cannot make a personal judgement against Mcebo based on what Habib decided. I don’t really know anything about the assault charges, but the Hitler comments definitely propelled the decision for the removal. It’s not fair for Mcebo or anyone else to be removed because of any comments they make in their personal capacity, but if he was found guilty of the assault charges then that’s something different and very serious. The comments didn’t bring Wits as a whole into disrepute because they were just one man’s opinion – if I were to publicly say that I love George Bush, for example, what you understand and the ideals you grasp from that statement is your own issue. Finally, students should have at least been consulted in the decision because they are the ones that elected the president.
Kathleen Boshoff, BSc, first year, 18, Roodepoort
I agree that Mcebo had to be removed, but I do not like the reasoning that the vice chancellor gave because it seemed a lot like propaganda – it’s almost as if he was saying that the Hitler comments were serious but not serious enough to remove Mcebo so he was going to remove him on an unrelated matter [the assault charges]. As Habib said in his decision statement, when you are put in a position of power you need to realise that you influence a lot of people and I believe that your freedom of speech needs to come with a responsibility of knowing you affect others. He does have the right to say whatever he wants, but also as SRC president he has a responsibility to be wary of what he says, as he is representing the students of Wits. If someone is democratically elected but they do something wrong, is it still the role of the people to decide if whether or not this is acceptable? What the majority believes shouldn’t supersede the law.
Gerhard Vermaak*, BA, third year, 21, south of Johannesburg
[The removal] shouldn’t be motivated against an individual, but rather a case of whether Mcebo damaged the reputation of the entire university or just his own reputation. As long as the decision wasn’t individually motivated, it’s acceptable. The Hitler comments unambiguously played a role in the decision – otherwise why would it have taken so long to remove him based solely on the assault charges? Mcebo can say whatever he wants, but obviously that comes with consequences – clearly Wits was brought into disrepute due to his praise of Hitler. In terms of the decision coming from the vice chancellor, I feel that the constituency that voted Mcebo in should have at least been consulted in the decision.