South African University Won't Charge Hitler-Praising Student

July 16, 2015

The University of the Witwatersrand, one of South Africa's top universities, announced Tuesday that it will not bring charges against Mcebo Dlamini, a former student leader who in April wrote on his Facebook page that he loved Hitler. The remark was followed by interviews in which Dlamini defended his admiration for the Nazi dictator, saying that he was a "leader" who "uplifted the spirit" of Germans and improved the country's economy. Jewish groups in South Africa called for the university to punish Dlamini, who lost his student government position the previous year for unrelated reasons. South Africa's Constitution exempts hate speech from the normal protections of free speech -- and many in the country said that praising Hitler was hate speech.

The university took a different view on the legal issue, while also criticizing the praise for Hitler. "On the basis of existing case evidence, the legal office found that Mr. Dlamini's utterances did not breach the exceptions to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech. There are grounds for him to be charged for failing to meet his fiduciary requirements as [student government] president. However, given the fact that he has already been removed from this capacity, the university does not deem it appropriate to charge him in this regard," said a statement from the university. "Obviously, the university still holds the view that Mr. Dlamini's remarks were abhorrent and not in standing with the values of this institution. The university remains embarrassed that one of its own could have made such comments. However, given its commitment to freedom of speech as espoused in the Constitution, the university is committed to providing a space for the free exchange of ideas, whether or not it agrees with those ideas."

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