"Unprecedented": Over 400 South African academics make public appeal

21 March 2011

In what has been described as "unprecedented", the South African academic community has come out in full support of colleagues at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Over 400 South African academics, including eight Vice-Chancellors and Deputy Vice-Chancellors (highest non-ceremonial university positions), have signed the “UJ Petition”. The UJ Petition is a public statement in support of UJ academics who are calling on their university to end its apartheid-era relationship with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU). The call is based on BGU’s active support and collaboration with the Israeli military and illegal Occupation. The opening lines of the UJ Petition reads:

As members of the academic community of South Africa, a country with a history of brute racism on the one hand and both academic acquiescence and resistance to it on the other, we write with deep concern regarding the relationship between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU)…[W]e wish to add our voices to those calling for the suspension of UJ’s agreement with BGU.

The UJ Petition was last published on the 25th of September 2010, with 200 signatories. The doubling of support comes in less than a week of a “damning” fact-finding report having been made public on the controversial UJ-BGU relationship.

The petition now boasts the compelling support of 8 Vice Chancellors and Deputy Vice Chancellors; 11 Deans and Vice Deans; 19 Heads of Department; 175 University Professors and 118 Academic Doctorates. UJ lecturer, Professor Fiona Tregenna has commented: "This sort of collective voice from the SA academy is unheard of in recent years."

Included in the list of signatories are some of South Africa’s leading voices: Professors Neville Alexander, Kader Asmal, Prof Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Rashida Manjoo, Barney Pityana and Sampie Terreblanche.

South Africa's popular cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Bishop Rubin Phillips, former Minister Ronnie Kasrils and leading social activist Zackie Achmat have also backed the campaign to have UJ ends its Israeli links.

Finally, the UJ Petition has begun to receive much international attention with over 100 internationals lending their support, including several prominent international scholars: Professors Judith Butler, Vijay Prashad, Wendy Brown Ernesto Laclau, and acclaimed British author, John Berger.

Dr Luke Sinwell from UJ says that: "With this sort of attention, which is unprecedented, it will make it very difficult for UJ to maintain its Israeli links while at the same time claiming to have a progressive agenda.”

Last year, UJ imposed six conditions on its Israeli university partner, BGU. This was after UJ’s Senate found there to be “significant evidence that BGU has research and other engagements that support the military and armed forces of Israel, in particular in its occupation of Gaza.” If these conditions are not met by the 01st of April then relations will automatically terminate. UJ's Senate meets on Wednesday 23 March to discuss the final termination of its agreement with BGU.