A group of students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg have embarked on a campaign against white people‚ spraying “f***-you” graffiti on T-shirts and walls across campus.
In response‚ the university’s leadership has urged staff‚ students and alumni to oppose the “hurtful” initiative by saying #NotInOurName.
“Students are fed up with whiteness!‚” Simamkele Dlakavu ‏@simamkeleD said via Twitter‚ sharing photos of the protesters.
The campaign‚ the WitsFeesMustFall ‏@WitsFMF movement says‚ is in solidarity with a student who is scheduled to appear before the Human Rights Commission on Wednesday for wearing a T-shirt that had the words “F*** White People” painted on the back.
The details of the case‚ or who the complainant is‚ is not immediately clear. Wits management said while it was unaware of the student’s hearing before the HRC‚ “the individual wearing the T-shirt has been associated with a number of illegal activities on Wits’ campuses in recent weeks‚ which we are investigating‚ in line with the university’s policies and procedures”. It gave no further information.
Rejecting assertions their campaign is racist‚ the WitsFeesMustFall movement states: “We will not be allowed to be accused of reverse racism because according to our understanding‚ there is no such no such thing as whites being victims of reverse racism. Reverse racism is as farce as the rainbow nation” (sic).
“To be racist‚ you need to possess two traits‚ which are power and privilege. The privilege that was gained by over 500 years of slavery and subjugation of black people to colonialism & oppression. The privilege is in the form of a structural‚ institutional‚ & social advantage”.
Wits management labelled the campaign “offensive” and said the graffiti was being removed from campus walls.
The university said it would take action against anyone caught defacing its property.
“As the Senior Executive Team of Wits University‚ we strongly condemn the offensive messages being propagated and we deeply regret the insult that it may cause to members of our community‚” management said in a statement.
“We understand that there are some who would like to manipulate the current political climate and the debates around race in society to deliberately provoke and offend others to suit their own agendas. We need to rise above the cheap politicking…”
The university’s management said it had been advised that legally‚ the campaign may not be a violation of Constitution‚ which provides for freedom of expression unless it constitutes incitement to cause harm. “In this instance‚ while the messages are certainly hurtful‚ we have been advised that they may not directly incite harm.”
Commenting on the assertion by the student protesters that “blacks can’t be racists”‚ Wits management said even if there was credence in their argument that the structure and distribution of power in society is in favour of white people‚ “it is the responsibility of every member of this University to be courteous to‚ and respectful of one another‚ even when we have different views”.
“The statements by the protesting group may or may not be racist‚ they may not be unlawful‚ but they are certainly hurtful and offensive to others.
“Should a member of our University community behave in this regard? We cannot deal with this using security measures. What is required is a social convention‚ through which members of the Wits community rise and say #NotInOurName.”