Letter to Students of Wits University from Wits Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib
As of today, Mr Mcebo Dlamini is no longer President or a member of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). In February 2015, Mr Dlamini was found guilty of misconduct by a disciplinary panel and given a sentence of, inter alia, one year suspended exclusion in respect of each charge against him. In terms of the SRC Constitution, a member of the SRC ceases to be a member if s/he is found guilty of misconduct by a Student Disciplinary Committee. The SRC member may appeal against his/her removal.
Mr Dlamini appealed to me and asked that I defer his standing down from the SRC pending the outcome of a review of the disciplinary panel’s decision. I agreed, provided that the review was completed within 14 days. Unfortunately, this did not happen. I met Mr Dlamini on 22 April 2015 and informed him that it was not in the best interests of the University for him to continue to hold office while having a disciplinary finding against him. I gave him until 30 April 2015 to make written representations to me regarding why I should not withdraw my decision for him to continue in office.
Mr Dlamini then provided a motivation for an extension of my decision based on the argument that the delay in the legal process was the fault of the Legal Office. I believe that this argument is disingenuous since it appears that, inter alia, he did not submit the relevant documentation to the Legal Office with enough time before the hearing for the Legal Office and the Committee to properly consider his arguments. This leads me to believe that he is deliberately delaying a final decision until the end of his presidential tenure. To allow this to happen would be a violation of the SRC constitution and the principle of justice.
Therefore, after consultation with the Chair of Council, Dr Randall Carolissen, I have decided to withdraw my decision for Mr Dlamini to remain in office. As of immediately, he is required to stand down from his position in the SRC. Both Mr Dlamini and the SRC have been informed in this regard. Appropriate provisions will be made for the continued operations of the SRC.
For the purposes of clarity, I would also like to state that the separate matter of Mr
Dlamini’s recent declaration of admiration for the fascist leader, Adolf Hitler, and what I believe to be racist comments regarding whites, did not influence my current decision to require him to step down. However, they cannot be ignored and I have referred the matter to the Legal Office for investigation. This matter will take its due course.
I would also like to make it categorically clear that I believe that these comments violate the fundamental values of Wits University and that Mr Dlamini has brought our institution into disrepute. His remarks have provoked multiple complaints from people of all racial, political and religious persuasions, including a petition demanding his immediate expulsion from the University. His subsequent engagements, including a Facebook post in which he threatened to kill an individual and his children, even though he may have been provoked, are in my view an indication that he lacks the maturity that is required of a student leader who is meant to represent a diverse and cosmopolitan community of over 30 000 students. As someone who claims to love this institution, I believe that Mr Dlamini has single-handedly wrought more damage on its reputation than any other person who I can think of in at least the last two decades. This damage has the potential to impact on the credibility of our degrees, and therefore on the employment prospects of all of our students and graduates.
There are some in our midst who have argued that the University’s principled commitment to free speech means that Mr Dlamini should not be sanctioned for his comments. I personally disagree. While I am committed to ensuring that Wits remains a free space for the contestation of ideas, including those with which we do not agree, I believe that the officials and leadership figures of this University must act in accordance with its values. Leadership in public institutions comes with responsibilities. It is incumbent on these leaders to act beyond their individual ambitions to the broader public interest. One is not compelled to seek office; one does so of one’s own volition. Therefore, one must be willing to take on the burdens of leadership as much as one experiences its privileges.
There are others who have argued that our responsibility in the case of errant behaviour by young leaders is to mentor and develop, rather than sanction. I concur, but mentorship and development can only be undertaken when a young leader is willing to learn. There has been continuous engagement with Mr Dlamini by many people over many months, and in my view, this has not yielded any change in his conduct.
I am also of the view that one cannot forever appease leaders (young or old) who violate our values and resort to mobilising on the basest of human impulses. There must be consequences for their choices. Our failure as a society to hold such leaders accountable is partly why our institutions have begun to fray and why we are subjected to the challenges of corruption, violence, xenophobia, racism, sexism, inequality and exploitation. Wits cannot allow itself to repeat this mistake for it would destroy the very fabric of who we are.
I want to say that this has been a difficult decision, even if some do not want to believe it. However, it has brought two principles to the fore. Firstly, it is important to realise that we live in a constitutional democracy. Even if one is elected by popular vote, one’s behaviour must be in accordance with the values of the collective. Secondly, it is important for the full student community to participate in the SRC elections. The vast majority of our students do not participate in the elections and too many subsequently complain about their leadership and their responsiveness to student concerns. If you truly want a responsive leadership, then it is incumbent on you to take the initiative and participate in the democratic act of choosing your own leadership.
I have deliberately chosen to reflect on my reasons for withdrawing the decision that enabled Mr Dlamini to remain in the SRC, as well as his recent general conduct, because of our collective commitment to transparency. I believe that we cannot demand this of government and others if we are not prepared to live by this code in our own institutions.
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