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Varsity under attack over Obama honour

US President Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama

Published Jun 24, 2013


Johannesburg - If the University of Johannesburg (UJ) wants to shake hands with US President Barack Obama, it must do this without using public resources paid for by taxpayers.

These were the words of SA Students Congress president Ngoako Selamolela at the “No you can’t – Obama” media conference on Sunday.

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UJ will be presenting Obama with an honorary doctorate during his working visit to the country this week.

A coalition behind plans to protest against Obama’s visit – which includes Cosatu, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the SACP and civil society groups – has lashed the institution’s decision to honour Obama.

The coalition said the US had escalated its assault on human rights, increased its militarisation and rhetoric on the international stage, and was continuing to guzzle world resources under his leadership.

“The US is known to undermine international law, and UJ must not implicate itself,” said Selamolela.

The coalition cited the support shown by the US towards what it termed the “apartheid state of Israel”, the continued defiance of calls for the release of the “Cuban Five” held in the US and the “Guantanamo Bay prisoners” as illustrations of the country’s continued violation of human rights and its consistent failure to act in a just way in diplomatic situations.

The “Cuban Five” are intelligence officers convicted in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, acting as an agent of a foreign government and other illegal activities.

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Nehawu president Mzwandile Makwaiba said the university had taken a stance against Israel on the oppression of Palestinian people, and was now undoing all of that with the intention to honour Israel’s biggest diplomatic and military supporter.

The coalition intended to roll out programmes of action throughout Obama’s visit.

However, the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso) said Obama’s visit to South Africa was a good thing.

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Daso training chairman Michael Crichton said: “We feel that the SRC should focus more on student-related issues… We need stronger ties with the US, and this will help with that.” – Additional reporting by Lerato Mbangeni

The Star

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