Adam Habib takes on both sides in the ‘distressingly racist’ Clifton ‘race debate’

Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib is pictured, 29 October 2015, at the Senate House at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, during a meeting with campus staff and students about the outsourcing of workers on campus. Picture: Alaister Russell

Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib is pictured, 29 October 2015, at the Senate House at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, during a meeting with campus staff and students about the outsourcing of workers on campus. Picture: Alaister Russell

The Wits vice-chancellor says that how people have been engaging with each other smacks of fascism and should be called out as racism.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, outspoken Wits University vice-chancellor Adam Habib shared his thoughts on how the debate around the protest at Clifton Fourth Beach has taken shape.

He started by saying that he considered Friday’s beach protest “entirely legitimate”, but social media’s debate about it had become “distressingly racist”, raising problems about how both black and white commentators were approaching the issue.

“The debate on the Clifton protest on social media is distressingly racist,” he wrote. “The protest is entirely legitimate. Our public beaches are there for all, not simply the rich. Neither do I have a problem with the slaughter of an animal. This is a cultural practice of some among us.”

However, he said people were now simply being treated as representatives of their particular skin colour in the debate, with the idea that white people opposed to animal cruelty can be compared to white hunters not being fair. He, however, criticised the animal rights activists for attempting to impose their values on people who do not share them.

“The racial profiling in the subsequent debate is shocking,” he wrote. “This has targeted animal rights activists who have protested the slaughter. Their argument; by all means protest, but why slaughter an animal? But if this is a cultural practice of some among us, why impose your values?

“But the response to the animal rights activists is too often racist. Some have taken trophy photos of white hunters to prove hypocrisy. But what is hypocritical? The animal rights activists were not the hunters. The only thing they shared with the hunters is their skin pigmentation.

“You cannot assume complicity on the basis of racial pigmentation. This kind of racial essentialism is what fascism is about. It was what apartheid was about. And now people run around sprouting this nonsense and think it is progressive. It must be called out as racism.”

While many agreed with the professor, some only liked parts of his argument and disagreed with the rest. Others dismissed Habib entirely, alleging he wasn’t considering the full picture.

He was also challenged on the point that how the sheep had been killed was not in any way culturally valid or determined. Many told him that, in their view, it had merely been done as a form of spectacle and intimidation.

Habib, however, had a lot of support too.

Following condemnation from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the City of Cape Town confirmed on Sunday it would lay animal cruelty charges against the group who ritually slaughtered the sheep.

This decision was also met with outrage in some quarters against the DA-led government, which they felt had taken sides.

On Friday, protesters against alleged racism at the beach slaughtered a sheep in what they claimed was a traditional ceremony to ward off evil and drive out racism.

It is illegal to slaughter an animal in a public place without a permit and animal-rights activists were also on the beach to protest against the act, which they said amounted to animal cruelty.

The protest was organised and led by former Rhodes Must Mall and Fees Must Fall leader Chumani Maxwele.

Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said the group did not have a permit to slaughter the sheep and the police had been asked to prevent them from bringing it to the beach.

The sheep was in effect sneaked on to the beach from an adjacent beach by being carried over the rocks, he said.

Smith claimed that a senior SA Police Service member then allegedly overreached his authority by allowing the ritual to continue after it became clear the sheep was not dead, as initially thought. He said charges would also be laid against the officer.

ANC Western Cape secretary Faiez Jacobs was among those ordered off the beach by a private security company last Sunday and raised alarm about what happened to him and his family. The security company, Professional Protection Alternatives (PPA), reportedly also controlled entrances to Clifton beach, allegedly illegally approving access.

The Sunday Times reported today that questions have been raised about why members of the police’s new anti-gang unit were deployed to the beach on Friday. They said they saw a gang unit member confiscating a firearm from PPA.

The paper spoke to an unnamed Clifton resident, who revealed that the local neighbourhood Bungalow Owners’ Association had initiated a contract with PPA to guard their suburb in September. The resident told the paper they felt the company had done a good job to “clean up” the area and make them feel safer after a number of residents were reportedly “attacked in their homes by armed men”.

According to residents, criminals had also started ambushing them on their way down to the beach; so they decided to personally pay a security company to safeguard them.

PPA CEO Alwyn Landman told the Sunday Times: “It was basically lawlessness … clients explained to me that they would call the police and they would eventually get there after 40 minutes, sometimes not.”

The government regulator is investigating why a private security company started illegally interfering with people’s free movement in a public space.

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