Sisulu claims Israel is funding Wits University
Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib said this was “absolute nonsense”.
“She is in violation of her oath as a minister for knowingly misrepresenting the state of affairs at a public university,” Habib said.
Sisulu’s statement about the university’s so-called funding came in the wake of her recent announcement of the downgrade. Last Friday’s statement was made at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN’s) Dr Phyllis Naidoo Memorial Lecture, where Sisulu was delivering the keynote address.
During her address, she reflected on her position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the downgrade (see other story on this page).
She claimed that the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) was under pressure to put the downgrade into effect. It wasn’t “as simple as just downgrading” owing to “other things – bilateral arrangements – all those things that we have to take into agreement”. The example she went on to cite, however, came as a surprise: Israel’s investment in Wits.
“Last week I was at Wits, and I discovered that Wits is heavily funded by the Israeli government,” Sisulu said. Offering no further explanation as to the source of this information, she simply added that this was one of the things “that we could package and work out in phases how we will finally implement what has been instructed to us”.
Habib said this statement was not only untrue, but wholly unfounded. He described elections as the “silly season” because politicians have a habit of saying the first stupid thought that pops up in their head. “Minister Sisulu has never approached any of the Wits executives to ask if we are funded by the Israeli state,” he said. “For the record, we are not.
“If she does not know anything about Wits University, I suggest she remains silent or muses about matters other than higher education.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies echoed this sentiment, saying that Sisulu was broadcasting baseless information. “It is unclear where the minister is getting her information from, but she seems to have resorted to completely fake and unsubstantiated claims to further her arguments,” said the board’s vice-president, Zev Krengel. “There is absolutely no basis for her comments, and it seems that she is using zealousness rather than facts as a basis to punish Israel. Unfortunately, this is irresponsible for someone in such an influential position.”
Some have even said that unless Sisulu provides evidence for her claim, she might be guilty of making discriminatory remarks. “Her comments may reflect anti-Semitism if they are proved not to be true,” said Sara Gon, policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations. “If Adam Habib says it’s nonsense, then she’s just lying and using Israel to imply a nefariousness, which is outrageous and anti-Semitic.”
Gon said someone needed to demand how the minister came to make that statement, and who gave her the misinformation. It could be that the minister was “told this by someone in authority at Wits who knew better and lied to her knowing that she would say something like she said”. Or, said Gon, someone could have said it to her not knowing the truth, but wanting to misrepresent the facts, using the minister as a conduit.
When the SA Jewish Report initially asked Dirco spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya for comment, he said he didn’t understand what the issue was, and asked if the newspaper had checked with Wits.
Then, responding to a message from the SA Jewish Report, he said, “no one seems to know what you are talking about” and asked where the remark had been made. After learning that it was said in the context of the UKZN lecture, he said he was not present, and asked for proof that the remark had been made.
- Although both a recording of the statement, and a transcript of the relevant section of the address were provided, no further comment had been received at the time of going to print.