Zanolwazi Kunene is a student journalist for Wits Vuvuzela. He captured the Palestinian human rights protest which took the form of a motorcade starting in Marks Park on May 23, 2021.
Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee and South African Union of Jewish Students clash during Israeli Apartheid Week.
Walking on the library lawns today Witsies were met by two separate installations across from one another symbolic of each side of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.
On the eastern most side of the lawns stood spray-painted signs heralding the start of “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) 2014”. On the western most side stood a big beige “peace tent” erected by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS).
The peace tent remained deserted during lunch, as the persistent rain kept students from walking across the water-logged lawns to the tent and its contents. Inside they would have found notice boards with information on how to fold peace doves and “images that show the positive and peaceful side of life in Israel,” said SAUJS chair, Ariela Carno.
Right across from the tent, the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) hosted the first of many film screenings planned for IAW on campus.
The documentary Occupation 101: The Voices of the Silenced Majority, screened at lunch drew a decent crowd of students who were there to watch in support and in an effort to learn more about IAW.
Mpho Sibiya, 2nd year BA said: “I actually just came to find out more about the whole Israel/Palestine thing. I don’t know if I can say I support the cause or not.”
PSC president Tasneem Essop and deputy chair Alex Freeman addressed the students before the screening.
Essop explained that IAW is an effort to highlight apartheid in Israel and with the help of a global boycott movement to drive the boycotted state into negotiations, as was done in South Africa not so long ago.
In response to the lack of an official stance by Wits University, Essop said: “The university should have a stance,” and this is why the PSC will be having a debate with vice chancellor, Adam Habib this coming Friday to try and challenge the “free space for all” view they currently hold.
In response to a question about the peace tent, Freeman said: “They (SAUJS) don’t really want peace”. He added that at present SAUJS has a Zionist stance and this is the reason he will never join them, even though he is Jewish.
Once the 2006 documentary directed Abdallah Omeish and Sufyan Omeish got started the information given by Essop and Freeman came to life onscreen through the lived experiences of people in Israel.
The documentary was originally made with the express purpose of debunking misrepresentations of Palestinians to the American public, said Essop.
Sibiya said she had been moved by what she had seen, “I didn’t understand the extent of the problem.”
Vice-president internal of the Wits SRC, Tokelo Nhlapo, wearing a Palestinian Solidary Alliance (PSA) t-shirt, and a fellow student painted over last week’s mural from Israel Awareness Week.
The South African Union for Jewish Student (SAUJS) painted the wall in conjunction with an exhibition to raise awareness for refugees in Israel.
Nhlapo said: “I am stopping the racist wall, as it is wrong. Most of these countries (portrayed on the wall) have signed a peace treaty with Israel. I don’t think Israel wants peace, if they did want peace they would stop the illegal occupation of Gaza”.
When asked by Wits Vuvuzela if painting over the artwork was within Nhlapo’s mandate he said that any student in the university had an obligation to uphold the values “we hold dear in our heart” and that any act which contradicts that must be stopped. Nhlapo further explained that “the UN has established that Zionism is racism”.
According to Nhlapo, the MSA (Muslim Students Association) and the PSA have lodged a complaint with the Dean of Students Prem Coopoo, “who approved the artwork”.
Earlier in the day, Wits Vuvuzela took photos of the wall which had been defaced with black paint.