Prof Adam Habib suspended after using the N-word in university meeting

Professor Adam Habib. Picture: Werner Beukes

Professor Adam Habib. Picture: Werner Beukes

Published Mar 18, 2021


Johannesburg - Former Wits vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib has been suspended at his new job at the University of London after he used the N-word during a video meeting with students last week.

Habib is the director of the university's School of Oriental and African Studies, a position he recently took over in January after leaving Wits last year.

He came under fire from students who were part of the video meeting and who took offence to him using the N-word, while locally the EFF has been calling for Habib to be fired.

In the video, it was revealed to Habib that someone had used the N-word to refer to a student, but Habib repeats the ’’N-word’ and and immediately after saying the word, a black man, who is part of the meeting, leans closer to the screen with a look of disbelief.

A white woman, shock etched on her face, also leans closer to the screen and puts her hands over her mouth.

In a statement, Marie Staunton, the chair of the board of trustees said Habib had agreed to “step aside” while the matter was being investigated.

“As a trustee of the board I have agreed with director Adam Habib that he will step aside while investigation takes place so as not to compromise the investigation.

“We are affirming that all actions set out in the board statement on Tuesday continue to be taken forward.

“We will continue to find ways to facilitate the mediated conversations and engagements - including with Adam - that centre the black community and SOAS Community broadly, in ways that do not compromise the investigation.

“Adam will step aside as of today ahead of the commencement to the investigation and until the end of the process,” said Staunton.

Professor Claire Ozanne, who is a deputy director, would assume the position of interim director during Habib’s suspension period.

EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu took to Twitter to celebrate the suspension.

“Thank you very much @SOAS Leadership for instructing Adam Habib to step aside whilst the investigations of his conduct, racism and arrogance goes on.

“There’s no amount of right wing racist support for Habib that will prevent the School from holding him accountable. #FireHabib” - he said.

Earlier this week, Habib leaped to his own defence saying the video had been cropped go create outrage. He apologised.

"I want to apologise unreservedly for having done so. I do now recognise the hurt and distress that has been caused and will continue to listen.

"It may be helpful to explain the context in which the statement was made.

"During the meeting, a student questioned SOAS’s responsiveness to anti-black racism and suggested that a staff member had used the word without consequences. I responded that: “If someone used the word [n-word] against another staff member, then it would violate our policy and action would be taken.”

"I apologised, saying no offence had been intended, and reiterated that if the word was used against another person, it would be a disciplinary offence as it would violate our policies. Nevertheless I recognize that despite the context, many in our community were offended and hurt by the term. And for this I apologise unreservedly.

"I am sorry to have caused this controversy, and I am keen to work with the whole School on addressing the issues which will enable SOAS to achieve its mission in both the national and global community."


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