IAW2024: Solidarity for Palestine made simple this Human Rights Day

Wits societies’ joint initiative allows for anyone and everyone to show their solidarity with Palestine through the clothes on their backs or keffiyehs around their necks.

The Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) are encouraging Wits University students to wear Palestinian items and colours during Israel Apartheid Month in March 2024, as the situation in the region deteriorates further.

This year a global effort has been made by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to stretch Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) over a month, which has been adopted by the PSC and MSA. Traditionally, IAW occurs during the week of Human Rights Day in South Africa.

Muhammed Suliman, MSA chairperson lamented that although “you have Human Rights Day… everyone fails to see the human rights violations that [are] ongoing” in Palestine right now. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the total Palestinian death toll has climbed to over 32000, an injury toll of over 78000 and a further two million citizens have been displaced.

Abdullah Omar, an MSA Da’wah Committee member said the ongoing situation in Palestine is an “atrocity” that is an example of “what apartheid (in South Africa) could have been”, had it never ended.

Two Wits University students heeding the PSC call on the library lawns. Photo: Tristan Monzeglio
A PSC flag utilising watermelon symbolism and has “resistance is not terrorism” written on it. Photo: Tristan Monzeglio

Suliman said “the Palestine issue is not a religious one… it’s a humanitarian issue”. Academic Officer for the PSC, Noxolo Nxele, said “there’s a lot more to talk about and a lot more people to talk to” and this simple initiative is their effort to expand on the calls for a ceasefire while raising awareness.

Noxolo said there are a vast array of Palestinian resistance symbols (watermelons, olives and keys), that students can use to show their support for Palestine. From what Wits Vuvuzela has observed this week, there have been multiple students wearing keffiyehs and displaying watermelon themed flags in a show of solidarity.

The representatives from the PSC and the MSA also stressed that much more attention and support from Wits is required regarding the promotion of this initiative, as well as others of its kind.

In a statement, the university was only willing to comment on applications made by Wits PSC and the South African Union of Jewish Students, and said all planned events and demonstrations by either society was “approved in line with the University’s policies and procedures”.

Big acts not enough to get Witsies out of Wits.

FIERCE POETRY: Poet Lebogang Mashile spoke out against Israeli apartheid at the IAW concert on Friday. Photo: Michelle Gumede

FIERCE POETRY: Poet Lebo Mashile spoke out against Israeli apartheid at the IAW concert on Friday. Photo: ichelle Gumede

 By Katleho Sekhotho

Four big artists and free transport were not enough to get Wits students out to Bassline for a free concert, according to organisers.

A bus had been provided for the concert on Friday, the last event of Israel Apartheid Week, but then cancelled because of the low turnout, said Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee chairperson Shaeera Kalla.

Lebo Mashile, Tumi Molekane, Reason and Jr who were the acts for the evening, performed to a half-filled space at a free event.

The low turnout is in contrast to a comedy show held the day before at the Great Hall, which was filled to capacity, with some students being turned away.

Bassline has a capacity of up to to 1200 people. Less than 500 people were there, according to Bassline organiser Fattz Kgomo.

Kgomo said that despite the poor attendance, the night was still a huge success.

Tumi Molekane, popularly known for being part of Tumi and The Volume, told Wits Vuvuzela the event was a success: “They were loud you know, they were responsive … I think what I wanted to say to them, I think I said.”

Poet Lebo Mashile also received a warm welcome and told Wits Vuvuzela she participated in the concert because she’s ‘always been politically minded’.

Boycott Divestment Sanctions spokesperson Kamo Nakedi said organisers would work harder to promote future events.

“It will grow … It was the first time,” said Nakedi. “We can always do better.”

OPINION: Active justice

Pearl

Pearl Pillay is a former SRC member, she is currently studying towards her masters in politics. Photo: Provided

OVER the next few weeks, activists on our campus and indeed on campuses around the world will rally together to commemorate Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 (IAW). Much has been said about this week of global activism, however, very little has been said about how you, an ordinary citizen, fit into this global picture. Why should you care about people on the other side of the world?

IAW is an annual series of events aimed at educating people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid state.

It will take place in over 250 cities around the world and has been endorsed by hundreds of organisations.

[pullquote]”If you were asking why get involved, maybe you should rather be asking why not?”[/pullquote]

This week is crucial in raising awareness and providing information about Zionism, the Palestinian struggle for liberation and, more importantly for us, how their struggle has distinct parallels with ours as South Africans.

You may be wondering what exactly we mean when we say “Israeli Apartheid”.

In the most basic terms, this refers to the deliberate policy of racial or ethnic segregation perpetuated by the state of Israel. Under this system, millions of Palestinians live in conditions which are very similar to that of apartheid South Africa.

No right of free speech, arrest and imprisonment without trial or charge, torture and no right to vote for the government which controls their lives are but a few of the conditions that govern the day-to-day lives of Palestinians.

It is unnecessary to reiterate the long history of oppression which apartheid brought to the people of our country. What is important, however, is highlighting the fact that during our struggle, people around the world mobilised against apartheid South Africa.

Today, more than an opportunity, it becomes our duty to do our part for a people who continue to struggle against Israeli apartheid.

Apartheid is unacceptable – regardless of where you’re from.

We aren’t saying that you should stand on a picket line in the Gaza Strip, but we are asking that you consider the plight of the Palestinian people whilst you enjoy your freedoms. IAW, and indeed the Palestinian solidarity movement, is becoming increasingly fashionable; this is your chance to get involved in a global campaign, to use your Wits experience and contribute to something way beyond Jorrisen street and Empire road.

If you were asking why get involved, maybe you should rather be asking why not?

Pearl Pillay is a former SRC member, she is currently studying towards her masters in politics.

OPINION: ‘Give peace wings’

Ariela

Ariela Carno is the national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students. Photo: Provided

THE LANGUAGE we use and the way in which we frame a situation defines our everyday reality.
If we frame something in the positive as opposed to the negative, it is very likely to change the outcome of the situation. That, in principle, is one of the underlying issues that I have with the week known as “Israeli Apartheid Week”.

Putting aside the fact that the claim that Israel is analogous to apartheid South Africa is an insult to the very real struggle the South African people underwent during apartheid (in addition to being utterly false) the very title “Israeli Apartheid Week” presents a foregone conclusion that completely excludes the dialogue it claims to support.

[pullquote]”It merely incites more hatred and violence and the cycle continues.”[/pullquote]

This week, rather than promoting a constructive dialogue regarding how a constructive solution can be reached in the Middle East, incites hatred, violence and anti-semitism.
Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying there are no issues in the Middle East nor that differences of opinion are not desirable.

However, creating a week of hate doesn’t solve any problems. It merely incites more hatred and violence and the cycle continues.
Every year on campus many students dread this infamous week because during it they feel that it provides a platform where criticisms evolve into discrimination. Hence, this year, the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) is running a campaign called “Give peace wings”.

In the spirit of constructive dialogue we implore all students not to fall prey to the myth that hating those with a different opinion to yours is the only way to solve a conflict.

In the words of Nelson Mandela: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy, then he becomes your partner.”
So, don’t fall prey to the rhetoric. Rather join SAUJS Wits in giving peace wings.

Ariela Carno is the national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students.

Peace event gets hammered

Uyanda Mabece, (PSC) Ntshembo Vuma (YCL) were hammering their wooden frame outside Umthombo Building when David Isakow (SAUJS) and Professor Skornick went outside to ask them to keep it down as they were disrupting an ongoing SAUJS event inside.
Uyanda Mabece (left) and Ntshembo Vuma were hammering their wooden frame outside the Umthombo Building setting the stage for an argument with a Wits SA Union of Jewish Students member.                        Photo: Nqobile Dludla

A heated argument over loud hammering broke out between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups on campus Monday, setting the stage for an acrimonious Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).

A pro-Israel, “Give Peace Wings”, event was being held inside Umthombo 2 (U2) lecture hall when hammering sounds were heard outside the venue.

Uyanda Mabece, an executive member of the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), and Ntshembo Vuma, chair of the Young Communist League, were nailing  wooden frames in preparation for a pro-Palestinian event.

David Isakow, a member of the Wits branch of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), was sitting in the Give Peace Wings event and went outside to investigate the noise.

“I went outside to see what was going on. I saw Uyanda from the PSC hammering nails into a wooden frame and also intentionally missing the nails to make noise,” said Isakow.

Isakow said he repeatedly asked Mabece and Vuma to stop making noise or move away from their talk.

“[Mabece] refused to move even after I offered to help him. I said I’d take it further as it’s disturbing our events and they weren’t willing to be helpful,” he continued.

[pullquote align=”right”]Campus control were called in to break up the fracas.[/pullquote]

An Israeli professor of oncology, Prof Yehuda Skornick, was due to deliver a speech on medical science at the Give Peace Wings event. Skornick also went outside to confront Mabece and Vuma.

The fight continued to escalate with Isakow taking out his cellphone to record his argument with Mabece. Campus control were called in to break up the fracas.

Mabece defended the hammering to Wits Vuvuzela and said  lunch hour, when the fight took place, was the only time noise was allowed on campus.

“[Isakow] was very impolite when he spoke to me. We’ve been working and using that space outside Umthombo since yesterday and now that they’re having an event there we must stop what we’re doing?” he said.

According to Mabece, preparations for the first day of IAW began at 6am on Monday morning and were paused during lecture hours with the intention of continuing during lunch.

“This was not a strategic move, it just happened that it was a coincidence,” said Mabece. Prof Skornick was able to deliver his lecture in the same venue after the incident. 

In previous years, IAW at Wits has been the scene of bitter arguments, confrontations and protests between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups.  Just days ago before this year’s IAW began, vice chancellor Adam Habib issued a statement asking for peaceful co-existence between  student groups. 

Wits Vuvuzela journalists intimidated

In a related incident, this journalist and a colleague were stopped by the campus control officers from photographing the incident. Look out for the full story in this week’s print edition of the Wits Vuvuzela

Petitions, protests and perplexity

By Emelia Motsai and Mia Swart

WITS students have found themselves divided and confused by competing petitions between the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso) and the Progressive Youth Alliance-dominated Student Representative Council.

On Wednesday, the SRC was asking students to sign a petition demanding misconduct charges against 11 students, including nine SRC members, be dropped. At the same time Daso was petitioning for the charges against the eleven students to not be dropped.

The students were charged for contravention of the university’s code of conduct. The group was charged after disrupting a musical recital by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef on March 12 as part of a protest during Israel Apartheid Week.

The SRC said they want the charges against them dropped because university management was attacking their right to protest. Daso disagrees with this claim.

“We do not think the SRC is above the code of conduct that students need to comply with. We believe that they should be disciplined,” said chairperson of DASO Wits, Dikeledi Selowa.

The organisations petitioned on both Main and Education campus.  Selowa said they planned to get about 2 000 signatures for the petition. The SRC had endorsements for their petition from more than 100 organisations as well as asking students to sign.

HOT IN HERE: Sibulele Mgudlwa, president of the WITS Student Representative Council, and Dikeledi Selowa, chairperson of the Wits Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso) debate about the matter of charges against the SRC being dropped. Mgudlwa mocked Daso and said he felt so unthreatened by their petition that he would sign it just to increase their numbers, if he was not acting in his capacity as SRC president.   Photo: Prelene Singh

HOT IN HERE: Sibulele Mgudlwa, president of the WITS Student Representative Council, and Dikeledi Selowa, chairperson of the Wits Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso) debate about the matter of charges against the SRC being dropped. Mgudlwa mocked Daso and said he felt so unthreatened by their petition that he would sign it just to increase their numbers, if he was not acting in his capacity as SRC president. Photo: Prelene Singh

The SRC asked students to sign their petition in support of the right to protest against issues that students are unhappy with such as housing.

A  Daso representative told students: “The SRC must not have its own mandate. They must have a student mandate. They must be held accountable for their actions. We don’t have a problem with the protest. The issue is the manner.”

While the organisations stuck to their beliefs, students were divided over which petition to sign.

Perplexed students

Kirsten Chetty, 1st year LLB signed the Daso petition because: “The SRC shouldn’t have boycotted that way. You can make your opinions known, but to enforce it in that manner is wrong.”

Hunadi Mogaladi, 1st year Medicine, signed the SRC petition: “One of our human rights is free speech. If you are not letting people protest, then it undermines that right,” she said.

One student who signed the Daso petition, Ilanet Chernick , was one of the attendees at the concert on March 12. Chernick described her experience of the protest as “horrible”.

She signed the Daso petition because she believes the SRC should be held accountable and “cannot be allowed to get off”.  Chernick, who is Jewish, said a lot of friction has arisen between Jewish students and the Wits Muslim Student Association.

But other students were confused about the petitions they were signing. “I don’t even know why I signed,” said a student just after putting her name to the Daso petition.

Her friend  also signed the Daso petition, but soon afterwards asked for it to be taken off. “I thought it was for Palestine so I signed,” she said.

Another girl signed the SRC petition and then she told her friend to do the same because “the SRC was protesting against a lecturer who was charged for attempted rape.”

An SRC member corrected her.

While some students were signing the Daso petition sheets, other students refused to sign the sheet and said because the petition was organized by the “opposition” it might be biased.

 

SRC-accused want a public trial

We won’t stop: SRC secretary Tasneem Essop (centre), protesting at an Israeli independence day celebration.

We won’t stop: SRC secretary Tasneem Essop (centre), protesting at an Israeli independence day celebration.

 

 

 

THE SRC is calling for a public trial for 11 students—nine of whom are SRC members—who have been charged for possible contravention of the university’s code of conduct.

The group is charged for disrupting a musical recital by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshefon March 12 as part of a protest during Israel Apartheid Week. “We want this to be a public trial because it affects the university at large,” said SRC internal vice president Tokelo Nhlapo.  On April 15, Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa released a press statement that said a senior counsel had been appointed to act in lieu of a student disciplinary committee. The senior counsel would be empowered to “to chair the hearing, and to carry out all of its functions and to exercise all its powers.”

The SRC members that have been charged are Sibulele Mgudlwa, Tokelo Nhlapo, Joy Phiri, Tasneem Essop, Justice Nkomo, Pearl Pillay, Apelele Pindani, Klaas Mokgomole and Norman Mashegoane. Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Feziwe Ndwayana are the two students who are not SRC members. The first hearing is scheduled for May 13 at 9am.

“We have no regrets about our actions. We make no apologies to the highest and the lowest offices at Wits,” said Nhlapo who has been charged with six counts of misconduct.

On the same day that Nongxa released the statement, several members of the SRC joined a group of activists to disrupt another Israel-related concert. This time the target of the protests was a performance by Israeli musicians celebrating Israel Independence Day at Gold Reef City. The Wits Choir also performed at the event.

“I was very disappointed that the Wits Choir was performing at the event,” Pillay told Wits Vuvuzela. “Does this mean that they have taken sides?”

Some of the activists at the Gold Reef City action included two Wits students who said they were assaulted by members of the Jewish community present at the theatre. The two Witsies said they would be laying charges against members of the Jewish Community Security Organization, the South African Zionist Federation and South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

Vandalism marks Israel Apartheid Week at Wits

DEFACED: A student looks at the Israel Apartheid Week wall that was defaced. The words “Propaganda” and Brain-washed” were scrawled on the wall. Event co-ordinator Tasneem Essop said she was disappointed about the vandalism. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

DEFACED: A student looks at the Israel Apartheid Week wall that was defaced. The words “Propaganda” and Brain-washed” were scrawled on the wall. Event co-ordinator Tasneem Essop said she was disappointed about the vandalism. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

A STUDENT wall announcing Israel Apartheid Week events was discovered to have been vandalised on Thursday morning.

The words “Propaganda” and “Brain Washing” were spray-painted across the wall in large, black letters. The phrase “Realise, Real Eyes, Real Lies” was also written into a corner of the wall.

The wall is used by different student groups to announce events and messages. Vandalism against the wall when its subject is the Israel-Palestine conflict is a regular occurrence.

Last week, the same wall, this time painted by the SA Union of Jewish Students, was also vandalised. A depiction of Israel on a map of the Middle East was blackened out and part of a written message was also blackened out.

On Tuesday, students sympathetic to Palestine protested against a performance by Israel-born pianist Yossi Reshef in the SW Engineering block.

Members of the Student Representative Council (SRC), Muslim Students Association (MSA), Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) gathered outside the Atrium ready to bring the concert to a stop.

SRC secretary Tasneem Essop said: “We heard of plans to host an Israeli pianist brought to South Africa by the Israeli embassy. We then immediately wrote to the relevant university staff calling for them to cancel the event as it is a direct violation of the cultural boycott of Israel as adopted by the SRC last year.”

“Protest was our last resort.”

Israel Apartheid Week is hosted annually across the world by pro-Palestinian activists.  As part of their involvement, Wits PSC hosted a series of events throughout the week, which were open to students on campus such as an exhibition at the library lawns.

“We have some photos up as well as a mock prison which represents Palestinians who have been detained illegally,” Essop said.

There was also a discussion on Tuesday evening and a film screening on Wednesday.

A balloon release, silent protest and panel discussion were planned for Thursday. An open mic session is planned for Friday.

Essop said that they had faced some challenges with regards to planning their events.  They wanted to have a photo exhibition and film screening in a residence but university officials said no political events were allowed in there.

Essop said usually society events were organised through the Dean of Students Prem Coopoo and Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) however this year they were requested to submit their information and list of events they planned to both Coopoo and university Registrar Kirti Menon.

Coopoo denied that Israel Apartheid Week had been treated unfairly as this was not the first time that a club or society event was reviewed by the vice chancellor’s office.

“Events hosted by SAUJS and Wits PSC have to be approved by my office. This has been the practice for the past eight years. Tasneem and Tokelo Nhlapo objected to this six weeks ago in a discussion with me. I explained that all policies and practices are subject to evaluation and review,” said Coopoo.

She suggested they submit a proposal to review the policies but they had not taken this up.

Coopoo said that when she had doubts about an event she seeks advice of other members of management.

Updated: SAUJS sets the record straight

Update: 12 March 2013

SAUJS has written to Wits Vuvuzela retracting allegations of hate speech against Tokelo Nhlapo, as explained in the original article below,  and offered a formal apology.

SAUJS further said that Nhlapo painting over the mural was not “against university regulations”.

The organisation attributes their initial allegations to “an unfortunate internal error in communication within SAUJS”. Wits Vuvuzela quoted SAUJS media officer Gabriella Tobias throughout the article below and according to SAUJS national liaison officer Harry Hoshovsky an “erroneous and incorrect” release was sent from Tobias’s email address “without her knowledge”.

 

“SAUJS fundamentally respects Mr Nhlapo’s right to freedom of expression, even though we may not agree with his opinions regarding Israel. Thus, we wish to sincerely apologise to Mr Nhlapo with respect to this dubious accusation being erroneously published on our behalf,” Hoshovsky said in an updated statement.

Hoshovsky added that SAUJS did not intend to accuse Nhlapo of hate speech, despite him calling the mural “racist and wrong”.

[hr]

Original: 11 March 2013

The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) have accused an SRC member of hate speech, following what they label as “racist remarks” uttered during Israel Awareness Week.

Earlier this week Wits Vuvuzela reported that SRC vice president Tokelo Nhlapo and a fellow student painted over the mural as the duo believed that the mural was “racist and wrong”. Nhlapo also said: “most of these countries (portrayed on the wall) have signed a peace treaty with Israel”. SAUJS maintains that only two Arab countries (Egypt and Jordan) have signed peace treaties with Israel.

“As it stands, Nhlapo has been given a clear platform to spew his totally inaccurate, virulent and defamatory hate speech,” SAUJS media officer Gabriella Tobias said in a statement sent to Wits Vuvuzela.

SAUJS painted the wall in conjunction with an exhibition to raise awareness about Israel’s small geographical size compared to its hostile neighbouring states and Israel’s existence among students.

Nhlapo further alleged that if Israel wanted peace it “would stop the illegal occupation of Gaza”, a comment which SAUJS has rubbished.  “This is factually wrong as Israel unilaterally and totally withdrew its military presence in Gaza in 2005 along with all its Jewish population.”

“Currently Israel maintains a UN-supported blockade on Gaza so as to prevent military material reaching Hamas terrorists,” Tobias added.

According to Nhlapo, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Palestinian Solidarity Alliance (PSA) have lodged a complaint with the Dean of Student Affairs Prem Coopoo, “who approved the artwork”.

Tobias said that Nhlapo contravened Wits regulation when he painted over the mural, as the wall was not booked by any society. However the Dean of Student Affairs Prem Coopoo said: “The time that SAUJS had booked the wall had expired. The next day onwards, it was booked by the MSA and that’s the reason for clearing the wall”.