Thuli Madonsela and three others say Prof Habib is no racist and he should be reinstated at SOAS

Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela flanked by Professor Adam Habib during a debate on the Nkandla Report at Wits Senate House, Johannesburg. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela flanked by Professor Adam Habib during a debate on the Nkandla Report at Wits Senate House, Johannesburg. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Published Apr 7, 2021


Johannesburg - Former public protector Thuli Madonsela - and three others - Justice Malala, Palesa Morudu and Barney Pityana, have called for under fire Professor Adam Habib to be reinstated without delay at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

The former Wits vice-chancellor was suspended three weeks ago from his new job as SOAS director after he used the N-word during a video meeting with students.

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

In an article published on Wednesday, Madonsela, Malala, Morudu and Pityana, said Habib was feeling the heat as former Wits University students who had an axe to grind against him had mobilised against him.

They admitted that Habib had erred and exercised poor judgment in using the N-word, but they also warned SOAS against “allowing the self-righteous to act as universal thought police” - which they said acted in a manner to silence other voices.

“If this trend is not reversed, books and films that have the N-word will have to be revised or banned. August Wilson’s Fences will have to be pulled from classrooms, along with the works of Mark Twain.

“Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained will be banned or heavily edited. Muhammed Ali’s famous quote about the Viet Cong will have to be erased from history.

“Universities that allow this to happen will contribute to the death of culture and knowledge production. They will no longer be places of learning, opting to become ‘safe spaces’ where diversity of views is not tolerated — and only loud voices that claim to be the ’authentic’ voices of historic oppression,” said Madonsela, Malala, Morudu and Pityana.

The four defended Habib and said he was not a racist, calling on the university to allow him time to know the students better and for his reinstatement “without delay”.

“In a university there ought to be a level of intellectual rigour and debate about meanings, strategy and intended outcomes,” they said.

Madonsela, Malala, Morudu and Pityana, said Habib had suffered racial oppression in South Africa, was an activist and was a black man who rose to the summit of an academic institution.

“Yet the lens of wokeness and identity politics filters out history and context to present both individuals in the same light.

“In the United States, where the N-word has indelible connections to chattel slavery and Jim Crow, the racist announcer kept his job.

“Habib, on the other hand, has been forced to step aside after saying in context that the use of the N-word would result in disciplinary action. He faces an organised social media campaign that seeks his removal from SOAS, with one online petitioner likening him to a war criminal.

“Sadly, this incident reflects a global trend in which much of the discourse on racism is reduced to identifying the pecking order of historic oppression,” the four said.

Quoting Steve Biko, the four said “black” was not a matter of pigmentation, but it was a mental attitude.

“Biko’s world view formed part of the political tradition that united the oppressed to defeat apartheid and begin forging a non-racial future in the face of organised state violence. This tradition, which unfolded in the real world, has for many years informed Adam Habib’s world outlook.

“In what twisted logic is someone who was subject to racial oppression now accused of racism, told that he cannot claim his heritage, and forbidden to utter certain words because his skin is of a lighter hue?

“The assertion that Habib has no lived experience of black suffering ‘that stretches over 500 years’ would benefit from a broader reading of history.

“Habib’s lived experience is that of Indians in South Africa, most of whom are descendants of indentured labourers brought to the eastern province of Natal between 1860 and 1911,” they said.