THE REMOVAL of SRC president Mcebo Dlamini has sparked debate surrounding freedom of speech.

Last week, Dlamini posted the statement “I love Adolf Hitler” in a Facebook comment thread below a graphic comparing modern Israel to Nazi Germany. He added, that every white person has “an element of Adolf Hitler”.  He later defended and repeated his comments in several media interviews.

Dlamini was this week dismissed from office by Vice Chancellor Adam Habib over a previous disciplinary action. Habib has denied the dismissal is the result of Dlamini’s comments on Hitler.

What he said was racist and deeply offensive to many of those whose families died at the hands of Hitler.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) National Spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi was critical about the dismissal, arguing that Habib was “silencing” Dlamini.

“In removing Mcebo Dlamini from office, who was elected by a popular student ballot, Adam Habib has acted like Hitler. He is the Hitler he seeks to silence by removing Mcebo from office!” Ndlozi said in a Facebook message.

But Prof Anton Harber, chair of the Freedom of Expression Institute, criticised Dlamini’s remarks.

“What he said was racist and deeply offensive to many of those whose families died at the hands of Hitler,” Harber said.

Many have argued that Dlamini’s comments, which first appeared on his Facebook profile and were therefore private. However, Harber rejects this.

He is a public figure, an elected official of a public institution and is therefore responsible for his conduct and should expect it to be scrutinised.

“If he felt what he said was private, then he should not have given interviews and repeated those opinions in interviews,” Harber said.

“He is a public figure, an elected official of a public institution and is therefore responsible for his conduct and should expect it to be scrutinised.”

So what constitutes freedom of speech and what makes a statement hate speech? Dr Dale McKinley, an independent researcher, said that while freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution it “does not extend to … Advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion and that constitutes incitement to cause harm”.

“This clause therefore explicitly outlaws such speech as ‘hate speech’,” McKinley said.

McKinley argued that Dlamini’s comments were “wholly irresponsible” particularly coming from a leader. Dlamini has expressed his intention of opening debate by his comments, but McKinley said it did the opposite.

“Instead of opening a debate … his comments closed down a meaningful debate about what are real and crucial issues for SA,” McKinley said.

Dlamini’s comments have also been defended as part of a discussion about transformation but Harber said this was not the case.

“Saying such things did not promote transformation, and might even have discredited many of those pushing for change,” Harber said.