ConcernedWitsStaff

Dear Vice-Chancellor, As staff of the University, we express our concern and distress regarding events surrounding the presence of accused war criminal, David Benjamin, on the Wits campus this past Sunday, 9th August 2009: 1) The University allowed and hired out its facilities for a talk by David Benjamin, an accused war criminal. David Benjamin is included in an application (brought by, amongst others, former Wits Law Professor John Dugard) against senior members of the Israeli military and political regime, alleging war crimes. Benjamin authorized the use of white phosphorus during Israel's December 2008 attack on Gaza, and is directly implicated in the deaths of 1 400 Palestinians. Whilst Wits staff support freedom of speech, we are concerned that the University has made no effort to publicly distance itself from Benjamin's alleged war crimes, which tarnishes the reputation of the University and those associated with it. 2) We are gravely concerned that the University actively attempted to suppress the right of Wits staff and students to hold a silent protest against Benjamin's presence on the Wits Medical School Campus. The efforts of senior management to frustrate and deny members of the Wits community their right to a democratically protected activity suggests a dangerous precedent regarding the right to protest at Wits University. 3) We are outraged by the racial discrimination on our campus that resulted from handing over of the Wits Medical School Campus to external security attendant to Benjamin's presence. This included racial profiling and traumatizing incidents of harassment and intimidation of some black staff and students. This racialized maltreatment was inflicted not only on protestors but on many students seeking to utilize university facilities for academic purposes, with some black students even denied such access. We condemn these incidents and request the following immediate intervention: - A public explanation and apology to all staff and students who experienced racial discrimination on campus as a result of the handing over of security at the Medical School to external agents. - The development of fair and transparent policies and procedures for dissent and protest at the University that includes the establishment of an independent decision-making authority. We expect a response to this letter and the broader issues raised by students and staff in this regard, especially in light of the ongoing Ministerial investigation into racism on university campuses. Failure to do so would signal disrespect for past and current struggles on this campus against racial discrimination, and for the advancement of basic freedoms, including the right to protest. Concerned Staff of Wits University

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