A UCU activist and former National Executive Committee member was concerned about her Union inviting Bongani Masuku. She wrote to the Activists List:
Sent: 08 December 2009 18:50
To: UCU activists e-group
Subject: [activists] speakers at UCU meetings
I believe that UCU does genuinely try to put equality at the heart of everything it does, which does not mean that mistakes do not occasionally happen. In general, everyone to whom we provide a platform as part of a UCU event should have a positive record on equality issues or at least not be guilty of making prejudiced or otherwise hate-motivated public statements. I am not suggesting that we vet speakers. However, when information about speakers becomes available we should evaluate it to determine both its reliability and seriousness. With regards to the reliability of the information its source is particularly important.
In this case of Mr Masuku, an invitation to the international secretary of a Congress of Trade Unions should not have been problematical. However, when further information became available from the South African Human Rights Commission we should have acted on this, unless we felt that there had been a miscarriage of justice or that the SAHRC is not a reputable body. I am assuming it is, though willing to be corrected on this. When a speaker who had made homophobic comments was invited to a stop the war conference that we were involved with, we and other trade unions very rightly made representations to stop the war and the speaker was withdrawn.
Her queries are well-made. We would answer some of her comments:
Mr Masuku’s remarks were publicly available all over the Internet and reported in the South African media. In a Google-search for “Bongani Masuku”, the first result is a report of these remarks, dated March.
Mr Masuku was proactively invited by UCU to attend the private boycott conference. This was not a situation where UCU simply failed to do its research; it must have done some research on Mr Masuku, otherwise why invite him in the first place?
Mr Masuku has not denied making the comments in question. He can’t, as some of them are in writing and some of them were recorded at the time.
The South African Human Rights Commission is a respected body in South Africa, run by veteran anti-apartheid campaigners and human rights lawyers. It is a key part of the post-apartheid settlement in South Africa.
Gavin Reid is a pro-boycott campaigner and UCU activist who chaired the BRICUP event in Leeds last night. Mr Masuku was originally supposed to speak at the event but he didn’t turn up. Gavin Reid answered the UCU Activist above as follows:
To: UCU activists e-group
Subject: RE: [activists] speakers at UCU meetings
I chaired a meeting tonight in Leeds ‘Israel, the Palestinians and Apartheid’. Around 200 people attended from the Yorkshire region to listen to speakers from ANC, Cosatu, War on Want and the Palestinian campaign for BDS. I can assure the list that everybody at the meeting contributed with respect for each other’s positions, indeed I made it a requirement of their continuing presence at the meeting. In case the question arises, Leeds UCU did not contribute any funds to the meeting and a collection was taken to cover costs.
Mr Masuku was not present as he has since returned to South Africa via Botswana at the weekend. I understand that he categorically denies any accusations of racism and that Cosatu has issued a statement relating to this in SA today. It goes without saying, I hope, that UCU would not share any platform with any known racist. I certainly would not do so either.
I further understand that the position adopted by the SA Human Rights Commission was apparently taken without Mr Masuku being allowed to refute the ‘charges’ and is, therefore, likely to be subject to legal action in SA. Certainly there will need to be a more careful analysis than that currently being presented as fact by others.
The Pro-Israel lobby tried unsuccessfully to have the meeting banned on the basis of the reports of Mr Masuku’s position. The University of Leeds has a protocol on Freedom of Expression that has provided a strong framework for ‘controversial’ meetings to take place, despite making an almost prohibitively expensive charge for the use of the room!
Mr Reid’s response gives a misleading impression. He says (above):
“I further understand that the position adopted by the SA Human Rights Commission was apparently taken without Mr Masuku being allowed to refute the ‘charges’”
Note the scare-quotes around the word ‘charges’. But the SAHRC Ruling, available online since Friday and in the possession of UCU, speaks clearly in paragraphs 23 and 25 about:
“[Masuku's] response to the allegations put to him by the South African Human Rights Commission”
He also says (above)
“I understand that he categorically denies any accusations of racism”
Mr Masuku does not deny making the comments, comments found by the SAHRC to be Hate Speech. Does UCU believe that someone accused of racist Hate Speech has to actually admit that his comments were racist before it will take action?