Wits Uni. punishes students for protesting Israeli concert. Students slam Vice Chancellor for improper conduct and are to appeal decision.

South Africa’s Wits University has made public today -without first informing affected students- its decision to expel 10 students for protesting against an Israeli-embassy funded concert early in 2013. According to a Wits University press release: “The sentence has been suspended provided that the students are not found guilty of any other form of misconduct for a period of two years. These students will not be allowed to hold any office in any student governance structure for a period of one year. In addition, they will each have to perform 80 hours of community service, as determined by the University.”
Several of the 11 students have already graduated and left Wits University which means that the punishment will not apply, however, Wits PSC, in principle condemns the witch-hunt conducted by Wits University’s Management and the Israeli lobby against the “Wits 11”. Wits PSC also condemns Wits University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Habib who first went to the media with this verdict instead of first informing the 11 charged students, this is highly improper and we expected more of the Vice Chancellor.
Last year, Wits University’s Management charged 11 Wits University students (9 of whom are Student Representative Council members) for protesting against an Israeli-embassy funded piano concert held on their campus in March 2013. Contrary to some claims, the protest was not because of the pianist’s ethnicity (Israeli) but due to the Israeli Embassy’s financial involvement in violation of the cultural boycott of Israel. Find a timeline of events here:The Wits University PSC condemns the way in which Wits University, under pressure from the Israeli lobby (including financial threats from donors who identify with Israel (see: http://tinyurl.com/puag339), is punishing students who protested against the hosting of an Israeli-funded concert. Tasneem Essop, former Wits University SRC Secretary commented: “Protest is not only an expression that should be protected but protests against Israeli-sponsored events also falls within the principle of internationalism that our country once benefited from. Thousands of students, workers and others protested against Apartheid South Africa sponsored events in the 1980s often disrupting cricket matches, rugby games etc. This international movement of boycotts contributed to our freedom today.”
The Wits University PSC welcomes that the Wits University’s disciplinary process dismissed 4 out of the 6 charges (count 1, 2, 3 and 6) that were brought by the university against the students. The Wits University PSC also welcomes that the Wits University’s disciplinary process further dismissed count 5 for all 11 Wits students except one of them. The 11 students, as a group, were only found guilty of one charge, count 4, for having “disregarded the rights of the audience, the organisers and the pianist”  in protesting against the Israeli concert (para 106, page 49). Students intend on appealing the guilty verdict for this count. In finding the students guilty, the chairperson of the Wits University disciplinary process, SC JA Woodword, stated: “However righteous the students believed their cause to be, they acted in an unacceptable, high-handed and irresponsible manner” (para 106, page 49).While the Wits PSC welcomes the dismissal of the other charges, Wits University PSC is perplexed by the guilty verdict on count 4 because in paragraph 51 of the same verdict report, Woodward herself says: “I do however accept that the protest on 12 March 2013 was not accompanied by violence, intimidation or coercion.” If the protest was not accompanied by violence, intimidation or coercion then how can the University find the students guilty of “unacceptable” protest carried out in an “irresponsible manner”?
The sentence of one year expulsion (suspended over two years) and 80 hours community service for count five is unduly harsh, unacceptable and will be appealed particularly given that Wits University’s disciplinary process itself found that the protest was not “violent, coercive or intimidating” (paragraph 51, page 26). The Wits University PSC has engaged with members of the “Wits 11” who have indicated that they intend to appeal the decision by Wits University. Wits University PSC fully backs the Wits11 in their intention to appeal the guilty verdict of count 5.The Wits University’s verdict report quotes Wits University’s Senate Academic Freedom Committee Chairperson, Professor Eric Worby, who said in paragraph 50: “The holding of the concert was contrary to the SRC decision [to boycott all Israeli academic and cultural events] and the University’s support of the [Israeli sponsored] concert was a deliberate attempt to deny the validity of the SRC decision. As the University was aware of the position of the SRC the organisers of the concert should not have been entitled to proceed with the concert.”The Wits University PSC maintains that the university is unfairly punishing students for their protest. The punishment of students is a result of undue influence and threats made by the Israeli lobby and which the Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Habib has himself admitted to (see: http://tinyurl.com/puag339)


Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee
2nd Floor, SRC Matrix Building
East Campus, Wits University
Johannesburg, 2000

Email: witspsc@gmail.com
Facebook Group: Wits PSC
Telephone: +27 (0) 74 458 9408

Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee (Wits PSC): 0832048739 / 0715028674

Fmr. President of Wits University Student Representative Council, Sibulele Mgudlwa: 0845739667
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel in South Africa (BDS South Africa) Spokesperson, Muhammed Desai: 0842119988

The Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (Wits PSC) is a registered student organization of the SRC at the University of the Witwatersrand. For more information on this issue visit: www.bdssouthafrica.com/2011/05/wits-university-students-right2protest.html