Mcebo: Was he allowed to say that?

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.

Wits VC refers SRC President “for investigation”

Wits Vice Chancellor (VC) Professor Adam Habib, has issued a statement condemning the recent Adolf Hitler” comments by SRC president, Mcebo Dlamini on the latter’s Facebook wall on Saturday. In the statement released a short while ago, Habib said he is referring “Mcebo Dlamini for investigation to see whether disciplinary charges should be brought against him in this regard”. 

The full statement is reproduced below: 

“Dear Colleagues, Students, Alumni and Members of the Wits University Community

The SRC President’s Facebook posts regarding Adolf Hitler and his subsequent comments to our student newspaper were forwarded to me over the weekend by a number of concerned staff, students and alumni. I have emailed the SRC President and asked him to account for his remarks but have not yet received a response.

The Facebook posts and subsequent comments are racist and offensive in the extreme. They make disparaging remarks about various communities and assume a similar characteristic among all white people. Disturbingly, they valorise a racist autocrat who was responsible for the murder of millions of people. Valorising such an individual is utterly unacceptable and especially dangerous in a climate where we are experiencing xenophobic attacks. It violates the fundamental values of Wits University.

In my email to the SRC President, I indicated that Wits strives to be a pluralistic institution and defends freedom of speech, even when this means allowing the expression of views that do not accord with our own views and values. However, we expect our officials to be circumspect in their utterances and to act within the values of the institution. This is a principle that applies to the SRC President and it has clearly been violated in this case.

As such, I am referring Mcebo Dlamini for investigation to see whether disciplinary charges should be brought against him in this regard.

To all individuals to whom this incident may have caused offence, I want to apologise for the fact that someone who is deemed a leader in our community could have made such shocking and embarrassing statements. His behaviour in no way speaks to the values of Wits as an institution.

– Vice-chancellor, Professor Adam Habib”

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