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.
The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) said “firm action”, will be taken against the Wits SRC president following his “Adolf Hitler” Facebook post on Saturday. The union called Dlamini a “racist” and said they will ensure he no longer maintains his presidency as he is “a total embarrassment and disgrace to Wits University.”
The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) said it will take “firm action” against Wits’ SRC (Students Representatives Council) president, Mcebo Dlamini, following his controversial “Adolf Hitler” Facebook post on Saturday.
Natan Pollack, SAUJS chairman, said the union has not yet decided exactly what action will be taken against Dlamini.
In a statement to Wits Vuvuzela, the union called Dlamini a “racist” and said his statements were “anti-Semitic, constituting hate speech according to the South African constitution”.
Pollack said “[Dlamini’s] racist statement that ‘every white person has elements of Adolf Hitler’ is an utter insult to our democratic rainbow nation.”
Dlamini told Wits Vuvuzela he researched Hitler extensively and shared his admiration for the former Nazi Germany dictator. “What I love about Hitler is his charisma and his capabilities to organise people,” Dlamini said.
“We need more leaders of such cailbre. I love Adolf Hitler,” Dlamini said.
Pollack added the union was “appalled” by Dlamini’s behaviour, the “anti-Semitic image” he posted which compared a democratic Israel to Nazi Germany and his comment: “I love Adolf HITLER.”
SAUJS said Dlamini’s behaviour was a complete violation of his leadership role as president of the SRC and a “total embarrassment and disgrace to Wits University.”
“This is not Mr Dlamini’s first anti-Semitic comment, nor is it his first time to face disciplinary action from the University, consistently proving his inability to hold a position of leadership,” Pollack said.
Pollack added that the union were committed to ensuring Dlamini no longer leads the University as a “shameful, anti-Semitic racist.”
Late last night, an online petition was created and had reached 230 signatures, calling for the removal of Dlamini as SRC President. The motivation for the petition read: “It is unacceptable on any level for any person, yet alone a figurehead, to make such sweeping, racially motivated antisemitic remarks and express support for a man who sent approximately eleven million people to their deaths”.