Wits University hosted another townhall meeting with the vice chancellor last week to give staff and students the opportunity to raise questions with Wits management.
It wasn’t a comfortable town hall meeting for Wits Vice Chancellor (VC) Professor Adam Habib last week. At the meeting held last Thursday, Habib came under heavy criticism mainly over the university’s stance on Israel and over the issue of unpaid electrical workers.
Rashaad Yusuf Dadoo, BA Law, used the platform of the townhall meeting to question Wits’ apparent lack of a stance on the conflict in the middle East and accused the university of having a political conscious only when it suited them.
Dadoo, who is a member of the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), claimed that the university was quick to stand against xenophobia, in solidarity with Kenyan students, but failed to take up a specific stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I felt the need to bring up the evident hypocrisy shown by the Vice Chancellor Professor Habib with regard to showing equal compassion and solidarity,” Dadoo said.
“I feel Professor Habib should show that compassion equally regardless of who the oppressors are,” he added.
He also claimed that the university had allowed the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) to bring an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier onto campus.
Habib was quick to deny this allegation saying the “soldier” was only a student wearing an IDF shirt.
Another member of the audience accused the VC of allowing racists to speak and mobilise on campus.
Habib, responded by saying that Wits is a place of free ideas where people are free to express their views even if they are not his views or those of the university.
Students took to Twitter after the townhall, to voice their disappointment in the VC’s response:
“APPALLED at the way VC <a href=”https://twitter.com/AdHabb”>@AdHabb</a> treated the <a href=”https://twitter.com/WitsPSC1″>@WitsPSC1</a> as a group of Muslim fundamentalists who don’t stand for freedom of speech,” said Aaisha (@aaishadadipatel).
“@WitsPSC1 was received with such hostility, WHY? Our first question was nothing but respectful,” tweeted Courtney Morgan (@Courtz_RM).
Electrical workers who have gone unpaid through this year staged a silent protest on the steps of the Great Hall before the meeting started. The workers, part of MJL Electrical, then walked into the hall and stood at the front of the stage for the duration of the meeting.
MJL workers have been in dispute with their employer, who has not paid them for over a month, and have taken the matter to court.
Habib addressed the issue of the MJL workers by saying that the university would support them as a friend of the court.
He also said that it was not the university’s responsibility to guarantee the jobs of employees of outsourced service providers as it would set a precedent for workers from other service providers.