Student leader who loves Hitler loses his post

Mcebo Dlamini was president of the students’ representative council at South Africa’s leading University of the Witwatersrand when he professed to love Adolf Hitler – the fascist German leader who unleashed the worst violence of the 20th century – and made racist comments, sparking a furore. Last week he lost the leadership post, though for earlier charges of misconduct.

Vice-chancellor Adam Habib said in a statement last week that before his Hitler utterances, Dlamini had been suspended from his position as president of the student representative council, or SRC, by a disciplinary committee for misconduct. He had been allowed an appeal process that had now ended.

“For the purposes of clarity, I would also like to state that the separate matter of Mr Dlamini’s recent declaration of admiration for the fascist leader, Adolf Hitler, and what I believe to be racist comments regarding whites, did not influence my current decision to require him to step down,” said Habib.

“However, they cannot be ignored and I have referred the matter to the legal office for investigation.”

The story so far

Last month Dlamini told Wits Vuvuzela, the official publication of the Johannesburg-based University of the Witwatersrand or Wits – one of South Africa’s top research universities – that he had researched Hitler extensively and admired the Nazi Germany dictator.

“What I love about Hitler is his charisma and his capabilities to organise people,” Dlamini said. “We need more leaders of such calibre. I love Adolf Hitler.”

Habib said Dlamini had violated the fundamental values of Wits University and brought the institution into disrepute, provoking multiple complaints from people of all racial, political and religious persuasions, including a petition demanding his immediate expulsion from the university.

“His subsequent engagements, including a Facebook post in which he threatened to kill an individual and his children, even though he may have been provoked, are in my view an indication that he lacks the maturity that is required of a student leader who is meant to represent a diverse and cosmopolitan community of over 30,000 students,” said Habib.

“As someone who claims to love this institution, I believe that Mr Dlamini has single-handedly wrought more damage on its reputation than any other person who I can think of in at least the last two decades. This damage has the potential to impact on the credibility of our degrees, and therefore on the employment prospects of all of our students and graduates.”


Dlamini remains unrepentant. He maintains that he still loves Hitler and says he was removed from office because of “a weak man who is pressured by the Zionists”.

“I'm saying I was found guilty by a kangaroo court for a crime that happened one year, four months ago, and you ask yourself, if Wits University went on to find you guilty, on whose interest were they pressing the charges, because no one was aggrieved today,” he told the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

One of the inflammatory statements made on Facebook by Dlamini said: “In every white person there is an element of Hitler.”

The South African Union of Jewish Students condemned Dlamini’s ‘Adolf Hitler’ Facebook post as a total embarrassment and disgrace to Wits.

The Department of Higher Education and Training, or DHET, said the statement about Hitler was irresponsible and could not have been made in ignorance of the role that the fascist leader had actually played.

DHET spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana said Hitler and the Nazis unleashed horrendous violence and a Second World War in which at least 50 million people died. The department called on all student leaders to think carefully and to be fully informed before making inflammatory statements about people and events, including historical figures and episodes.

“We should do some basic research before making statements that can inflict great psychological pain on the survivors as well as the relatives and descendants of the victims of historical injustices.”

Nkwanyana urged student organisations to educate their leaders politically and promote general student awareness about history. The DHET, he added, was prepared to partner with the South African Union of Students – the biggest national student organisation – to promote general awareness of history, and supported plans to introduce history as a compulsory subject up to Grade 12.

Dlamini also has supporters, among them the Pan Africanist Congress, or PAC.

It said the removal of Dlamini as student council president indicated the deterioration of student democracy, and called for his immediate reinstatement.

Dlamini was elected by students, therefore should be removed by students and not by university management, said PAC National Spokesperson Kenneth Mokgatlhe. He claimed that Wits had asked Dlamini to step down to please external stakeholders who held different views on Adolf Hitler.

“The PAC finds this dismissal to be an expression of great intolerance of such a prestigious university. Furthermore, democracy cannot be only good to promote liberal ideas. Democracy should be embraced also when it puts alternative ideologies.”

The process

Habib said that Dlamini had ceased to be the president or a member of the SRC last Monday 4 May.

In February he had been found guilty of misconduct by a student disciplinary committee and given a sentence of, among other things, one year suspended exclusion in respect of each charge against him.

“At this stage we cannot spell out the exact charges, as the matter is being appealed by Mr Dlamini and we do not want to compromise the legal proceedings in any way,” Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel told University World News. She added that the case was scheduled to be decided on 22 May.

However, The Star newspaper in Johannesburg reported that Dlamini was suspended for assaulting a member of staff, and that there were also email exchanges involved. Last week, similar claims were made during a student discussion at the Wits Debating Union.

Under the SRC constitution, a member found guilty of misconduct by the committee ceases to be a member, but may appeal against his or her removal.

Habib said Dlamini had asked him to defer standing down from the SRC pending the outcome of a review of the disciplinary panel’s decision. The vice-chancellor agreed, provided that the review was completed in 14 days. “Unfortunately, this did not happen.”

On 22 April, Habib told Dlamini it was not in the university’s best interests to have him continue to hold office, and gave him until 30 April to make written representations. Dlamini then argued that the delay in the legal process was the fault of the legal office – however, it was the student leader who had not submitted the necessary documentation to the office in time.

“This leads me to believe that he is deliberately delaying a final decision until the end of his presidential tenure. To allow this to happen would be a violation of the SRC constitution and the principle of justice.” On this basis, Habib withdrew his decision for Dlamini to remain in office.

“While I am committed to ensuring that Wits remains a free space for the contestation of ideas, including those with which we do not agree, I believe that the officials and leadership figures of this university must act in accordance with its values,” said Habib.

“Leadership in public institutions comes with responsibilities. It is incumbent on these leaders to act beyond their individual ambitions to the broader public interest.”

Habib said that while there was a responsibility to mentor young leaders whose behaviour was errant, there needed to be a willingness on the part of a young leader to learn. There had been continuous engagement with Dlamini “by many people over many months, and in my view, this has not yielded any change in his conduct".

“I am also of the view that one cannot forever appease leaders (young or old) who violate our values and resort to mobilising on the basest of human impulses. There must be consequences for their choices.

“Our failure as a society to hold such leaders accountable is partly why our institutions have begun to fray and why we are subjected to the challenges of corruption, violence, xenophobia, racism, sexism, inequality and exploitation.

“Wits cannot allow itself to repeat this mistake for it would destroy the very fabric of who we are.”