David Saks
David Saks

Surreal manipulation of truth by Wits concert disrupters

It doesn’t matter what ball you put in your opponent’s court so long as you spin it. Shane Warne would agree, and so would those behind the break-up of a concert by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshev at Wits last March. Ever since that incident, the latter and their apologists have presented a consistently changing set of responses aimed at justifying what happened and turning the tables on their critics. That much of what appeared later squarely contradicts what had previously been asserted is apparently regarded as irrelevant. The purpose has been to manipulate perceptions, not strive for truth and consistency.

On March 12 several dozen protestors, including nine members of the Wits SRC, invaded the venue where Reshev was performing and noisily disrupted the recital, forcing it premature closure. They were cockahoop at the “success” of their demonstration, and this was reflected in how it was initially portrayed. According to the media statement by the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (issued in the name of Tasneem Essop, who is also Wits SRC Secretary General, and was one of those SRC members involved in the disruption): “Last night, 15 minutes into what was going to be a 90-minute scheduled concert by Israel’s Yossi Reshef, Wits University students stormed the concert venue, disrupted Reshef’s performance and as a result forced the organizers to cancel the event. The cancellation was celebrated by the protesting students as a ‘cultural boycott of Israel success’.”

From this, it can be seen that, far from denying that the concert was forcibly brought to a close, this first announcement by the perpetrators overtly brags about the fact. Sasco (Gauteng) went on to “hail the heroic students of Wits for blocking the performance of the pianist Yossi Reshef”.

What the disrupters genuinely seem to have not anticipated is being called to book for their actions. This is odd in itself, since they had not merely wrecked an official university function but openly defied the university’s unequivocal stance not to support a cultural and academic boycott against Israel (or any other country). The Wits leadership immediately condemned the disruption and announced its intention to investigate the incident and bring disciplinary proceedings against those responsible.

The substance of the next Wits SRC statement, issued nearly a month later, was very different from the triumphalist bragging of its first announcement. Now, as had been the case with previous disruptions of Israel-related events on campus, there was a shift into victim mode, with a predictable playing of the anti-white race card. The protestors, according to the SRC, had been violently assaulted, and in one case sexually assaulted. They had been subjected to racial abuse, including being called “monkeys” by a member of the audience (an assertion not supported by a video recording of the affair). There had been “racial profiling” in determining who could enter the venue. It was asserted that the subsequent use of expressions like “hooligans”, “thugs” and “a pack of baying hyenas frantic for blood” by members of the Zionist lobby in referring to the students was racist: “The use of such terms, all by White people, reminds us far too much of our racist past in which black students and people were reduced to barbarians, thugs, cockroaches etc.”

Thus did the SRC after the fact reformulate the whole incident as being a racial, white vs black confrontation, with the whites, as usual, cast in the role of villains and blacks as innocent victims. It did not matter that none of those condemning the students’ behaviour had made an issue of the race of the perpetrators, nor even mentioned it. Nor did it matter that terms like “thug” and “hooligan” have never been used specifically as racial epithets. The assumption would seem to be that any charge of racism against a white party will be effective as a smear tactic, regardless of how baseless it might be.

Introducing a racial dimension made an already ugly affair that much uglier, and things were soon to get uglier still. Just before the abortive concert, the Wits SRC issued a statement in support of Israel Apartheid Week that read in part, “We long to see the day where this University’s judgment is freed from the tentacles of Zionist money”. The willingness even then to throw into the mix the malignant legend of manipulative Jewish money power (no-one, surely, is fooled by the substitution of the word “Zionist” for “Jewish”) told its own story. Since then, the SRC and its various backers have repeatedly sought to depict the forthcoming Wits disciplinary hearing as being driven by Jewish financial pressure, not principle. Under the banner of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, the SRC recently called for “a thorough investigation into the financial threats being made by members of the Israeli lobby. We call on our university to expose these groups and individuals”. It was stated that “such pressures from the Israeli lobby are an interference with internal policies of the university and that the current disciplinary actions against the 11 Wits students undermine students right to protest”.

This in turn points to another big shift in the SRC’s campaign of self-exculpation, namely that now the demonstration against the Reshef concert had been orderly and non-disruptive and that the Israeli/Zionist/Jewish lobby was seeking to deny the students their democratic right to peaceful protest. That was the theme of a protest rally against the disciplinary hearings outside the Great Hall two weeks ago, in which participants included Cosatu General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of Sadtu and representatives from Sasco, Nehawu and the Young Communist League. The latter next issued a statement that, inter alia, declared: “Our hard earned freedom and right to protest are under threat from a powerful lobby, acting with total impunity and disregard or South African law.”

“All students and peace loving people should join us in recognising the threat to our democracy that the charges against the 11 students represent. We call on Wits University, with its proud history of struggle against the oppressive South African regime, to reject the Israel lobbies efforts to eradicate all opposition and resistance to both South African and Israeli apartheid.”

Nehawu, for its part, called for the immediate withdrawal of all charges against the students: “We are deeply disturbed that the university management has decided to appease the Zionist lobby and the apologists of the apartheid state of Israel by instituting disciplinary action against the students that protested. All students and peace loving people should join us in recognising the threat to our democracy that the charges against the 11 students represent. We call on Wits University, with its proud history of struggle against the oppressive South African regime, to reject the Israel lobbies efforts to eradicate all opposition and resistance to both South African and Israeli apartheid.

All of this and much more inflammatory, racially-charged rhetoric has surfaced in the course of this affair. It has gone beyond Middle East politics — perhaps it was never about it in the first place — to expose the gaping black-white fault-lines in our society. The incendiary, increasingly threatening statements over the Reshef incident and its aftermath is providing an unwelcome, and chilling, glimpse into a festering culture of rage, suspicion and resentment that exists beneath our rapidly crumbling Rainbow Nation façade.

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  • 6 Responses to “Surreal manipulation of truth by Wits concert disrupters”

    1. Goerdeler #

      Or perhaps simply that the blatant hooliganism and thuggishness described, which would not be justifiable by any reasonable person under any normal circumstances, are ‘justified’ by the combination of dishonesty, racial tactics, and totalitarian thinking that would have made Dr Goebbels proud – or amused – as the Doctor never failed to smirk with cynicism at the dishonesty that racial logic entails. It is amusing to see that bullying tactics are often so closely twinned with insincere proclamations of pretend victimhood. The cynicism of these tactics is remarkable.

      May 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm
    2. GrahamJ #

      “…rapidly crumbling Rainbow Nation façade.”

      No, no, no, no.

      It crumbled long ago, about the time that corruption and fraud was voted into office.

      May 30, 2013 at 2:34 pm
    3. Lisa #

      A peaceful protest looks very different.

      The SRC are thugs.

      May 30, 2013 at 10:25 pm
    4. Brian #

      I see that nothing has changed since I was at Wits in the early 90’s and members of the SRC and BSA stormed the stage to prevent that famous right wing demagogue of note, the late Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, from speaking…

      A well written piece David, on a shocking state of affairs.

      May 31, 2013 at 5:06 am
    5. Wow #

      I find it sadly humourous that at the epicentre of this story is the discussion of culture. The ANC affiliated SRC disturbed a cultural musical event, but at the same time are contributing to the new culture being created by the ruling party and its alliance members. Under the presidents leadership South Africa is now the breeding ground of hooliganism, violence, intolerance (racial and xenephobic), corruption, denialism and blatant disregard for the rule of law.

      It’s also not surprising that the SRC fell back on the victimised role and played the race card, because in all the new debates going on in this previously great country, the ANC do not have any rational or logical arguments other than “we are black and were and are still the victim”.

      Its such a shame that the ANC has fell into such a state of disrepair. The sooner the last remaining component of apartheid is condemned to the analls of history the sooner south africa will prosper.

      May 31, 2013 at 7:47 am
    6. Charlotte #

      An extremely well-written, clear and courageous article, David – and telling it like it is. Thank you for speaking out against this malicious and disgraceful deviation from the truth. ..
      .It made me sick to my stomach.

      We have a leadership that legitimises lawlessness and justifies criminality – attempting to pass the buck for its own deplorable non-governance and corruption by constantly playing the only card it knows – the race card.
      What should be condemned is condoned – and covered up.
      Even though, recently, out-of-control riots, xenophobic attacks, looting, killing, burning and destruction of property (this is anarchy) have been “condemned” by the ANC – of course, nothing is done about it.
      What are called ‘violent protests’ have become par for the course inthis country – a course of corruption which courses through the country with no 1 in the lead.
      There is no control – not by government, the police or the legal system – now all lead with ‘legalised lies’.

      Since the Z-ANC began playing its dirty cards, I am ashamed to say I am a South African.
      From ANC – Arrogance, Nepotism, Corruption
      to ANC – A National Calamity
      to ANC – A Nar Chy

      From the dream of a rainbow nation to the dregs of a ruined nation …

      May 31, 2013 at 3:17 pm

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