The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg is becoming embroiled in increasing controversy over its decision to charge 11 students (the #Wits11), 9 of whom are official Wits University Student Representative Council (Wits SRC) members, for having protested against an Israeli-embassy funded concert on the 12th of March this year. Last week, in what is being described as a blow to the principles of “transparency and administrative justice”, Advocate J.A. Woodward S.C, who is presiding over the trial of the 11 Wits University students, “kicked-out” and prevented representatives of the media as well as members of the public from attending the #Wits11 trial after a submission of “prejudice” was made by legal representative, Mr Joesph Mothibi, on behalf of Wits University’s Management (find more info here: http://tinyurl.com/ppqke8q).
SABC TV news coverage: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ks-Cytfh6U
Business Day newspaper coverage: http://tinyurl.com/k4f3ck6
[09 July 2005]After years of Israeli aggression, Apartheid policies and ongoing violence, Palestinians call for a boycott of Israel as a non-violent method to bring Israel in line with international law and respect basic human rights. The Palestinian boycott of Israel is modeled on the successful boycott of Apartheid South Africa.
[29 August 2012]The University of the Witwatersrand’s Student Representative Council (Wits SRC), the university’s official student body, unanimously passes a boycott of Israel resolution in line with policies of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA).
[19 February 2013]Announcements are made that an Israeli-embassy funded concert is to be hosted on the 12th of March at Wits University. Media reports as well as the official Wits University advertisement confirm the financial involvement of the Israeli Embassy in the hosting of the concert.
[22 February 2013]In light of the 2012 Wits University SRC’s boycott of Israel resolution, the Wits University’s SRC formally writes to members of Wits University’s Management explaining that the hosting of such an Israeli performance on Wits’ campus is in violation of the cultural boycott of Israel as well as Wits University SRC’s own support for and endorsement of the cultural boycott of Israel. Wits University’s Management fails to respond to concerns raised by students.
[10 March 2013]The African National Congress (ANC) Youth League calls for a boycott and protest of the upcoming 12th of March Israeli concert at Wits University stating that:“we call on all students to boycott the [Israeli] concert as it only seeks to normalise apartheid Israel. No one must be seen singing with apartheid, particularly in South Africa where we have seen what apartheid policies can do.”
[12 March 2013]Wits University students, including members of Wits University’s SRC, protest the Israeli concert on their campus with the concert subsequently –and successfully– being cancelled. During the protest students are dragged on the ground, pushed against walls and assaulted by the pro-Israeli concert goers. Audience members of the Israeli concert verbally abuse the Wits University students shouting:“you monkeys go back to the jungle”. One of the Israeli-concert goers threatens to “kill” the student protesters and anotherphysically hits a student with a broom.
[March 2013]The Israeli lobby begin to pressure Wits University’s Management to punish the student protestors using terms such as “barbaric” (used by Israeli musician, Yossi Reshef), “Muslim agitators” (used by pro-Israeli Professor Zaidel-Rudolph), “hooligans” (used by David Saks the Associate Director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies), “a pack of baying hyenas frantic for blood” (used by editor of the SA Jewish Report), “thugs”, “savages”, “monkeys” and other expletives to describe the student protestors.
[08 March 2013]The Young Communist League of South Africa (YCL) is one of the first organizations to indicate that Wits University’s Management is acting under pressure –and interference– from the Israeli lobby, specifically the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, to punish its students.
[08 April 2013]Exactly one month later, Wits University’s Management admits to being in discussions with members of the Israeli lobby, including the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.
[16 April 2013]Wits University’s Management, under pressure from the Israeli lobby, charges 11 students for protesting the 12th of March Israeli concert and appoints Joseph Mothibi from the corporate law firm, Norton Rose Fullbright, to represent the university in bringing charges against the students. Mothibi, is a director at Norton Rose Fullbright and specializes in representing clients from the mining, gaming and manufacturing industries. Tasneem Essop, one of the charged students commented in a press release:“Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, is again wasting precious institutional funds to charge us students for practicing our constitutional right to protest. A right that he has a lot to say about in public, but fails to implement at his university. We demand that these unfair charges being brought against us students under pressure from the Israeli lobby be immediately dropped.”
[21 May 2013]Wits University’s Management publicly confirms that its is under “financial pressure” from the Israeli lobby to charge its students. Wits University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, in a Business Day article, admits after a long silence, that indeed his university has come under financial “pressure from donors who support Israel,” and that, “there have indeed been some individuals who have threatened to withdraw their donations.”
[16 July 2013]Members of the media and public are “kicked out” of the trial against the #Wits11 and the trial is subsequently postponed to August 2013.
Support for the #Wits11 grows despite Israeli lobby pressures
South African anti-apartheid struggle stalwarts, leaders of major South African trade unions, members of civil society and several organizations have all come out in overwhelming support for the 11 Wits University students (the #Wits11) and their demand that charges for protesting against the 12th of March Israeli concert be immediately dropped. Supporters of the student protesters include former Robben Island prisoner, Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada [http://tinyurl.com/bp4sbzu]; General Secretary of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi [http://tinyurl.com/pemu9ln]; trade unions including the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) [http://tinyurl.com/qeozzpj]; the National, Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) [see: http://tinyurl.com/d4oqaqo]; and several organizations including the South African Students Congress (SASCO), the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCL) [http://tinyurl.com/c876mlj], the African National Congress Youth League (ANC YL), the Wits All Residence Council [http://tinyurl.com/nntow2b], the Wits Postgraduate Association [http://tinyurl.com/nnfyt6f] amongst others. Ahmed Kathrada said in a recent speech: “Our University students, supported by our trade unions and civil society organizations are making it abundantly clearer by the day that [Israeli] apologists are not welcome in our country.”
Lend your support to the #Wits11
The #Wits11 are –rightly– remaining unapologetic for their protests against Israel. These student protestors remind us of how Apartheid South Africa’s rugby and cricket teams were once protested, disrupted and prevented from playing in Perth, London and other cities of the world due to South Africa’s apartheid policies and practices (see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3Idu4mXO34). Support the #Wits11 by sending a message of support to them, direct your message to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass it on (you can also follow the students on Twitter using hashtags #Right2Protest and #Wits11).
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