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Wits Palestine activists butt heads with university

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Students taking part in Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) have claimed that they have been physically manhandled and verbally abused by campus security in a bid to prevent them from hosting the annual IAW exhibition on their university campus. Students were demanded to  immediatley dis-assemble Palestine information displays that had been erected around campus.

Alex Mdakane, national spokesperson for IAW South Africa, said the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), on an annual basis, applies for permission from the university management to host IAW events on the lawns of the main campus. However, this year he says the rules for applying has been more stringent.

“This year has been different; the university has made the application processes very difficult, they are aimed at preventing PSC from having those programmes on the lawns at WITS,” Mdakane explained.

“The application processes or rules that are being applied to PSC are different to those applied any other society that exists at wits,” claims Mdakane.

“We feel that, as the organising committee of IAW, that wits actions are basically aimed at preventing PSC from highlighting the plight of Palestinian people living in the occupied territories where the Zionist regime of Israel is everyday killing people, taking away their land taking away their property, taking away their livelihood.”

Each year, IAW takes place across more than 150 universities and cities. With the aim of raising awareness about Israel’s policies with regards to the Palestinian people.

Furthermore, panels, film screenings, and creative actions build support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“So Wits by implication, we can say without a doubt is also guilty of what Israeli apartheid is doing against the people of Palestine,” says Mdakane.

“We have been trying to speak to university management and so far they have just been telling us about their strict rules and application processes which is something that we have been doing, but what we have been asking them is why is this year’s application processes seemingly different from last year’s.”

“We have been told that we must wait for another month meaning that by the time they give us permission to have the event IAW would have long passed,” Mdakane went further.

He said students would not be deterred by the university’s actions and “understand that behind Wits there are other figures that are controlling the university.” He asserted that issues of this nature do not necessarily need permission.

He added that PSC activists are a (very) peaceful activist movement and “do not want to burn things because we don’t destroy property”. This was a reference to earlier student protests where university property was destroyed by students.

In response to this, Wits university management issued a statement saying that members of the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee decided to host a series of events in the week before Israeli Apartheid Week.

To do this without alerting anyone, they resorted to using members of the Wits Orienteering Club to book the lawns for the week under the pretence of other activities.

“Yet, they essentially planned to host a series of events that would normally be associated with Israeli Apartheid Week,” read the statement.

The statement goes further by saying that in these actions, these student leaders deliberately misled the management of the university.

“This was particularly irresponsible for it meant that we were not forewarned to put in place the appropriate security measures which we deem important given that violence has broken out at Wits during previous events associated with the Palestinian/Israeli issues. This is why for over two years, we have instated a rule that any Palestinian/Israeli event on the campus must be brought to the attention of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office so that we can take appropriate precautions.” VOC

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