Former student leader’s Hitler statements are free speech, South African university says


CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — A South African university has let a former student leader off the hook for making pro-Hitler comments.

The University of the Witwatersrand said in a statement Tuesday that its legal office “found that Mr. [Mcebo] Dlamini’s utterances did not breach the exceptions to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech.”

Although there were grounds for him to be charged for failing to meet his fiduciary requirements as president of the Students’ Representative Council, given the fact that he had already been removed from the position, the university “did not deem it appropriate to charge him in this regard,” while describing his remarks as “abhorrent,” The Mail and Guardian reported Wednesday.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, or SAJBD, the community’s representative body, said in a statement that the decision was relevant only with respect to the internal rules and procedures of the university and had no judicial relevance outside its confines.

“The SAJBD remains convinced that Mr. Dlamini’s comments are not protected by the Constitution and will continue to pursue the cases of hate speech that have been laid both with the South African police and with the SA Human Rights Commission,” it said in a statement.

Dlamini made headlines after a graphic appeared on his Facebook page in April comparing the Israeli government to the Nazi regime.

“In every white person there is an element of Hitler,” he wrote.

He was subsequently ousted from his position, but Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib said at the time that it was unrelated to his Hitler comments. Rather, Dlamini had been removed following a finding of misconduct against him by a disciplinary panel in February.

At the time of the Facebook post, Dlamini told the Wits newspaper Vuvuzela, “What I love about Hitler is his charisma and his capabilities to organize people. We need more leaders of such caliber.”

In defending his Facebook remarks, Dlamini said he was looking at “Hitler’s good side. Hitler managed to uplift the spirit of the German people.”

The Wits statement said it was “embarrassed” that a member of its community could have made such remarks.

“However, given its commitment to freedom of speech as espoused in the Constitution, the university is committed to providing a space for the free exchange of ideas, whether or not it agrees with those ideas,” it said.

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