South African student leader spared sanction for Hitler comments

University of Witwatersrand describes statements as 'abhorrent' but defends freedom of speech

July 29, 2015
Freedom of speech

A South African university has decided that it will not take disciplinary action over a former student leader’s statement that he loved Hitler.

The University of Witwatersrand said that while it judged comments made by Mcebo Dlamini, an ex-president of the Students’ Representative Council, to be “abhorrent”, it did not consider them to be hate speech.

It was in April that Mr Dlamini said that he loved Hitler, and he followed this up with an interview in which he said he was looking at the Nazi leader’s “good side”, and the way in which he “managed to uplift the spirit of the German people”.

“What I love about Hitler is his charisma and his capabilities to organize people,” Mr Dlamini was quoted as saying. “We need more leaders of such calibre.”

Mr Dlamini was subsequently removed from his position on the representative council for unrelated reasons, and Witwatersrand said an independent committee had found him guilty of misconduct.

But this process had nothing to do with the Hitler comments, and Witwatersrand confirmed that Mr Dlamini would be allowed to remain as a student at the institution.

Jewish groups in South Africa had argued that praising Hitler was hate speech, which is exempted from protections of freedom of speech in South Africa’s constitution.

The university took a different view, according to a statement from Randall Carolissen, chair of Witwatersrand’s council.

“On the basis of existing case evidence, the legal office found that Mr Dlamini's utterances did not breach the exceptions to the constitution regarding freedom of speech,” Dr Carolissen said. “There are grounds for him to be charged for failing to meet his fiduciary requirements as SRC president. However, given the fact that he has already been removed from this capacity, the university does not deem it appropriate to charge him in this regard.”

Dr Carolissen added: “Obviously, the university still holds the view that Mr Dlamini's remarks were abhorrent and not in standing with the values of this institution. The university remains embarrassed that one of its own could have made such comments.

“However, given its commitment to freedom of speech as espoused in the constitution, the university is committed to providing a space for the free exchange of ideas, whether or not it agrees with those ideas.”

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