UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Israeli-born pianist abandons performance after protest at Wits

UPDATE: 15 MAY 

Wits Vuvuzela has managed to salvage some footage from the protest by some Wits students of a concert by an Israeli-born pianist during Israel Apartheid week. We apologise for the poor quality of the footage which was shot with a cellphone.

 

UPDATE: 15 MARCH

SAUJS nationals liason officer, Harry Hoshovsky, has responded to protest action which took place during Israel Apartheid Week.

The statement from SAUJS read:

“Following the events of this week, SAUJS wishes to express its disgust and disappointment at the intolerance and blind malice displayed by Israel Apartheid Week and BDS Movement activists. SAUJS strongly supports the upholding of freedom of expression as a Constitutional right. Yet, despite our attempts to ensure that this core constitutional value is upheld, this week has highlighted that there are those on our campus who actively seek to silence, bully and eradicate any debate or well-reasoned arguments that contradict their extreme rhetoric.

 

This attitude was on full display as renowned human rights activist and former Sudanese slave, Simon Deng, was disrupted by supporters of the IAW campaign at his mere mention of the word ‘Israel’,despite this topic being a minor part of a speech focused on his tragic life story. We have also received several reports of Jewish students being harassed, discriminated against and victimized by those who claim that their events ‘promote dialogue and tolerance’. What they have wrought on campus is nothing short of disunity and conflict.

 

SAUJS wishes to point out that the SRC has the responsibility and mandate, to represent the interests of all students on campus and to encourage diversity, understanding and tolerance. They have been entrusted with this task and are expected to fulfil it. We therefore encourage our fellow students to reflect on the events that transpired this week and to consider over just who exactly should be held accountable by both them and the University, for the deliberate propagation of intolerance and division.”

addition, Wits University has issued a public apology for the disruption of the concert. Read the full statement here.

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ORIGINAL: 13 MARCH

Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef was escorted off stage by Wits Campus Control last night as students protested his presence on campus during Israel Apartheid Week.

“This guy coming here is trying to undermine Israel Apartheid week,” SRC vice-president (internal) Tokelo Nhlapo told Wits Vuvuzela.

Members of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), Muslim Students Association (MSA), Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) as well as Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), called for the protest as they did not want the concert to happen during international Israel Apartheid week.

Campus control had initially prevented the group of about 50 protesters from entering the Atrium Hall in the South West Engineering building where the concert was being held.

Students chanted and banged on the doors.  The protesters sang songs such as “Dubula ibhunu” a song that was previously under review due to what the AfriForum referred to as “hurtful lyrics”.

Once Campus Control opened the doors students stormed into the hall. They disrupted the performance by jumping on stage as well as blowing their vuvuzelas

Student activist Mbuyiseni Ndlozi addressed the crowd after they stormed the hall. “Our visitors must understand that we are Wits students in good standing. They must understand that in this university Zionism will not enjoy (sic) anymore. They will not bring anything related, sponsored, corroborating with Israel and will expect it will be romantically accepted.”

Wits Vuvuzela journalists tried to speak to people who had attended the concert however they were unwilling to comment.

Campus Control representatives also refused to comment and directed all enquiries to Wits Communication.

 

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 faces dissolution over charges

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC)  is pulling out all the stops to get misconduct charges dropped that could result in the dissolution of the SRC.

SURVIVOR SRC: SRC President Sibulele Mgudlwa claims intimidation.    Photo: Mia Swart

SURVIVOR SRC: SRC President Sibulele Mgudlwa claims intimidation. Photo: Mia Swart

The incident under scrutiny relates to the disruption of a musical recital by the Israeli born pianist Yossi Reshef. The disruption was part of a protest during Israeli Apartheid Week.  Nine members of the executive of the SRC are charged for not going through proper processes for protests, creating a hostile environment and refusing to obey orders from the university.

These are among other charges such as pushing members of university security, aggressively stomping feet, shouting, chanting, failing to respect the rights and freedom of the attendees at the concert. In addition, they “demeaned and/or humiliated and/or created an environment of intolerance”.

SRC president, Sibulele Mgudlwa said: “According to the SRC constitution if you are found guilty, then you can’t be a member of the SRC.”

Outgoing Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa, issued a statement saying  senior counsel has been appointed to act in lieu of a student discipline committee to chair the hearing, and to carry out all of its functions. And “as such, he or she will make a decision as to whether or not to publish details of the disciplinary proceedings”.[pullquote]“It’s just an environment that is not conducive to student governance.” [/pullquote]

Nongxa said if someone is found guilty, the person presiding decides on “the appropriate sanction”.

The SRC as a whole could not be disbanded, but it will work on a “case by case” basis. If enough members are found guilty and asked to step down, re-elections could be held or the vice chancellor can appoint a temporary SRC council.

SRC Vice President External, Joy Phiri said: “Finding a guilty verdict directly suggests that it is inappropriate for student leaders to fight just causes and that in itself is a negative message that I don’t think the university wants to tag along to.”

Phiri said that the charged members would take all the legal recourse in their power.  SRC vice president internal , Tokelo Nhlapo suggested that they won’t just step down but will appeal the case.

Mgudlwa said:  “It’s an intimidating experience and it really hampers how you do your job.” He added that students come and ask for assistance but between assisting students, the SRC have to address the charges, organize protests, put together press releases and organize responses.

It’s just an environment that is not conducive to student governance.”

If there was an emergency SRC, it would take a whole month to organise as new nominations of candidates have to be called for, as well as submissions and manifestos.

The university has to check whether the students are registered students at Wits and if they are legitimate and credible candidates. After the nominations have been approved, the circuses and the voting process would follow.

It now has more than 100 endorsements to call for the university to drop the charges against them. The endorsements come from a range of  organisations including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and South African Students Congress (Sasco).

 

 

 

 

SRC members face charges

ELEVEN members of the Wits community, including eight SRC members, have been charged for disrupting the performance of an Israeli-born pianist.

“The university can confirm that it has charged 11 members of the Wits community for a possible contravention of the university’s codes of conduct,” read a statement issued by Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa.

SRC Internal Vice President Tokelo Nhlapo said eight of the 11 people are SRC members. Five of those SRC members charged are also part of the executive: President Sibulele Mgudlwa, External Vice President Joy Phiri, Secretary Tasneem Essop, Treasurer Justice Nkomo.

Nhlapo is also a member of the SRC executive and is among those charged.

Nhlapo said members of the Palestinian solidarity movement on campus had also been charged.

Nongxa said the matter would not go before a Student Disciplinary Committee and, instead, senior counsel had been appointed “to chair the hearing, and to carry out all of its functions and to exercise all its powers.”

The vice chancellor said the university did not want to make any judgement about the outcome of the investigations as the legal process needs to take its course.

The disciplinary proceedings are the result of a protest during a March 12 performance by Yossi Reshef, a pianist who was born in Israel. Members of the Progressive Youth Alliance, Muslim Students Alliance, Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee and the SRC entered the venue singing songs, blowing vuvuzelas and brought the concert to a halt.

Nhlapo said the charges against them were without basis and were “in the interest of racism of Zionism.”

“Not only is the university threatening us with charges but doing so in the interest of racism and Zionism. Legal office has become a political tool in which Nongxa and his cronies can continue to sing and play pianos while Palestinians die,” said Nhlapo.

He claimed the charges had come only after the SRC complained of racial profiling at the concert.

“Only white people were allowed into the venue and our colleague who had bought tickets was not allowed in because she was Indian and presumed Muslim,” said Nhlapo.

He said the protestors had been called names such as “barbarians, terrorists and many other degrading terms by the organisers of the event.”