From Fair Play Campaign Group.
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we were involved with, we and other trade unions very rightly made representations to stop the war and the speaker was withdrawn.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?
December 9, 2009 at 11:53 pm
“Does UCU believe that someone accused of racist Hate Speech has to actually admit that his comments were racist before it will take action?”
Plainly, the answer to the question is “yes”. Anyway, significant members of the UCU Executive and others within the UCU BDS movement have made it very clear that they reject the EUMC definition of antisemitism and the test of detecting it: namely, that it is the alleged victim who is in the prime position to claim that it has happened (though not, of course, to be the judge and jury of conviction and punishment).
Clearly both the UCU and Masuku reject the SA Jewish Board of Deputies right to make such representations to the SAHRC, and also (the UCU by implication) the legitimacy of Jewish South Africans right to be both Zionists _and_ citizens and residents of South Africa.
Those accused of offences have the right to both deny that the offences have occured and to defend themselves against charges laid. What they do not have the right to do is dispute the validity of laws constitutionally passed – not without being prepared to face the consequences of such actions. Comrade Masuku appears to be taking the latter action.
Does Gavin Reid reject the validity of the UK RRA? If so, and he acts accordingly, see him in court.
December 10, 2009 at 12:42 am
It looks like UCU-BRICUP are playing it safe: dispensing with a liability and avoiding offending an ally, at least until it is safe to do so without adverse consequences.
December 10, 2009 at 8:41 am
But look at Reid’s defence. It is full of the usual antisemitic innuendo and assertions.
The question is what is the UCU going to do about it.
Antisemitism has been rife in the Union for years now.
The UCU has let it fester and continue.
It has been asked to take part in a government inquiry into antisemitism in the campus.
For many, the only antisemitism that some have experienced on campus has cme from the UCU.
December 10, 2009 at 10:03 pm
“The question is what the UCU is going to do about it”.
Err, nothing, as usual?
December 10, 2009 at 2:49 pm
With regard to the meeting at Leeds, it does appear that Masuku was dropped as a speaker.
“Mr Masuku was not present as he has since returned to South Africa via Botswana at the weekend.”
One has to conclude that some of the organizers must have decided that they were unwilling to share a platform with Masuku. It seems that Masuku went home early.
According to the attached, Masuku is not on the list of speakers at Leeds and Glasgow. I assume that he was initially, and when the SAHRC storm broke, it was decided that he should be withdrawn?
December 10, 2009 at 4:14 pm
Perhaps Leeds and Glasgow University might not have been willing to host a speaker who was found by The SAHRC to have used hate speech (in breach of the SA constitution)?
Of course, it was also deeemed to be anti-semitic.
Some people might ask… how can one believe in freedom of expression and yet advocate that hate speech is unacceptable?
The answer is that “hate speech” infringes on the freedom of expression of others making them fearful to voice their opinions.
Of course the debate is complex, and cannot be entirely divorced from the wider political issues which democracies are confronting.
December 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm
It is intersting how different anti-zionis groups are ealing with The SAHRC’s findings.
In SSouth Africa, I have been asked to apologize, by a mainly Jewish anti-zionist campaign, to Bongani Masuku for helping to expose his anti-semitism and hate speech.I attach the link and my letter in reponse…
Dear Doron Isaacs,
You have advocated, for some bizarre reason, that I should apologize to Bongani Masuku, for involving him in an email communication, during which he made vile anti-semitic comments. If the world could be turned upside down, you have certainly managed to achieve it by suggesting such an obscene resolution to The SAHRC’s findings.
I have to question “Open Shuhada Street’s” motivations. One of your fellow members of The South African Human Rights Delegation, Zackie Achmat, recently emailed me, in response to my refusal to apologize to Bongani Masuku. He stated that he was campaigning for “the restoration of the humanity of the Jewish people of Israel”. Please let me know asap whether OSS is part of this campaign. I assume that OSS is part of this campaign, since Nathan Geffen had forwarded him my email… “Je regret rien”
I believe that Zackie Achmat’s words are racist and anti-semitic. He clearly implies that the Jewish people in Israel have no humanity. It is a sweeping generalization and symptomatic of the blurred boundary between virulent anti-zionism and common garden anti-semitism. Quite frankly, I was appalled by Mr Achmat’s words. From them, one would assume that even Jews in Israel who oppose the current Israeli government’s policies towards The Palestinians, have no humanity!
So is OSS also campaigning for “the restoration of the humanity of the Jewish people of Israel”? And if it is, am I also correct to conclude that your campaign is anti-semitic?
I am posting this email on your blog and hope that you will not censor it.