Radical student urges more empathetic community

  • Wits Gruzd
Clad in a brown, brimmed hat and chequered keffiyeh, a pony-tailed Jewish revolutionary on Wits University campus captured media attention recently as he tore up posters, swore at students and clashed with police. Refusing to be intimidated by the negative sentiment espoused on the campus, Mitchel Joffe Hunter, 23, remains loyal to the cause of free, “decolonised” education.
by STEVEN GRUZD | Nov 02, 2016

Despite negative sentiment espoused by the #FeesMustFall (FMF) 2016 student movement that has continued to intimidate students and staff, disrupt classes and exams and damage university property with fires and stones, Mitchel Joffe Hunter, (23), remains loyal to the cause of free, “decolonised” education.

Last year Hunter attained his BA in industrial sociology and politics at Wits and is currently doing an honours in sociology. Speaking to SA Jewish Report, Hunter said these protests “critique the current government’s failures to move us sufficiently beyond the legacies of apartheid and colonialism”.

Hunter labelled the anti-Semitic slurs that arose during the protests “terribly unfortunate” and said “every protester who knows me knows that I am Jewish… and it’s never been an issue. I wish that was the case across the board.” He said he always confronts those espousing anti-Semitism.

But he felt anti-white sentiments are justified: “Most white people usually either react against FMF using incredibly racist language to delegitimise the call for free education or they say they are behind the goal but that the methods are incorrect, very patronisingly claiming to know better than the oppressed, how to react to oppression… white people need to learn that we are not the experts on either financial exclusion or on how the movement should conduct itself.”

Hunter said most white students seem focused on finishing their degrees “without trying to improve university for the next cohort of students”.

He claimed the media had overblown his role. “The media… seem obsessed with some things I’ve done because they look dramatic, which has maybe made me appear ‘prominent’ to the general public.” Hunter stresses that he is not a leader, spokesman or representative of FMF.

When asked about his aggressive televised clash with the #KeepWitsOpen counter-protesters, and tearing up their posters, Hunter replied: “Their whole march showed that white people… believe that the universities belong to them and that the status quo of violent exclusion, poverty and inequality must continue.

“As white student protesters, we couldn’t allow our fellow white students to act in this way.” In true Stalinist fashion, it seems there is no tolerance of alternative views.

Hunter dismissed Wits’ SMS vote, where the overwhelming majority of students agreed to resume classes, saying the 200 000 not in tertiary education due to financial exclusion were not polled.

So, can a minority override the majority in a democracy? Hunter upended the question. “Isn’t that what happens now? The rich minority, predominantly white, and the government elite currently enforce policies that entrench poverty. The minority have been using their financial, political and media connections to demonise and suppress… the decades old call for free education.”

Defending student violence, Hunter said it was because the students were provoked. “There was no looting and damage to buildings prior to the suppression by police - firing stun-grenades into peaceful student marches, not allowing students into our meeting space to discuss our approach, using water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse small groups of students and workers who were singing and talking.”

Hunter has put his body on the line for his cause. “I’m well acquainted with being hit by rubber batons, riot shields and rocks, pepper spray and teargas. In none of these cases was I, or other students, the instigator of this physical violence.

“Other comrades, and even non-protesting students, have been hurt much worse by the private security and police. Many have been hospitalised and left with permanent scars from, for example, close range rubber bullets or stun-grenades which exploded on their bodies.”

Hunter believes that free education is definitely possible and affordable, with no doubt about the difficult struggle ahead.

“Free education means South Africa will have more doctors, engineers, accountants and teachers; more people will be trained to understand our society and chart a better future. Fewer young people will languish after school without a possibility of ever finding work… can we afford not to?”

Finally, Hunter seeks a more empathetic Jewish community. “As Jews, almost all our families came to South Africa as refugees, fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms or the Holocaust… but over time we have assimilated into whiteness.

“We have become more comfortable among the rich. My dream is for the Jewish community to rejoin the struggle against oppression.”

He quotes from the Yom Kippur Haftarah (Isaiah 58:5-7): “Is this not the fast I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain?”


  1. 7 Gary Selikow 02 Nov
    Wearing a keffiyah Another Jewish kapo traitor The keffiyam means 'Burn the Jews in Palestine'
  2. 6 nat cheiman 02 Nov
    The man clearly has no shame
  3. 5 Carl Muller 03 Nov
    What a shame. The white students have parents that struggle to pay the fees. 
    I am also for free education but only those that behave like students and cannot afford it.
    Give them a loan and when they pass it becomes a bursary.
  4. 4 montlasky 03 Nov
    Schm***!! [Sorry, user, we welcome your joining the conversation - but that word on this topic could be construed as illegal  -MODERATOR]
  5. 3 yitzchak 03 Nov
    Dear Mitchel,
    1)On 18.7.2014 you signed a petition in the Cape Times with other Jewish renegades condemning Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza and blaming Israel entirely for the ongoing conflict.
    2)Similarly you signed a petition in 2014 to the Sunday times where you likened Hamas rocket attacks  to a parking ticket.You also claimed that 70% of casualties in Gaza were civilians ,concretely disproved.

    That you are antisemitic and antizionist goes without saying.

    The best thing that any self-respecting Jew can do is withdraw ANY donations or funding  to Wits University(Soon to be changed to Schwartz University).
    Your left wing fascism and your performance on TV makes me sick.

    I don't think you understand the meaning of decolonization unless you intend visiting a surgeon for a colonoscopy.
  6. 2 Zmira Cohen 03 Nov
    I 'm not sure why defamatory comments towards any particular person or ideology should be published.. ... By all means publish reasoned criticism, rational observations and moderately worded assessments Over dramatic protestation and coarse language don't really need to be  given too much coverage. And beware  of  showing solidarity with any person or movement , that disapproves of any specific cultural grouping. Today it might be 'them '
    Tomorrow , us.    
  7. 1 John 11 Feb
    Mitchel Joffe Hunter is all about propaganda. Take a look at this clip which illustrates his one-sided views.



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