Habib N-word saga: Shivambu says he should fall on his sword, Zille insists it's 'cancel culture'

Adam Habib has been suspended as director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for using the N-word. File photo.
Adam Habib has been suspended as director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for using the N-word. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy

EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu and DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille have weighed in on a no-confidence motion passed against Adam Habib by a students' union for his use of the N-word.

The SOAS Students' Union last week passed a motion of no confidence against Habib after a controversy over his use of the N-word while addressing students at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) during a webinar.

In a statement, the union said its members overwhelmingly backed a vote of no confidence in Habib - 407 of the members present voted in favour of the motion, 65 voted against it, and 11 abstained. The institution is still investigating the incident.

“Members also called on the school to ensure that no student faces repercussions for challenging the director’s use of the N-word in the all-student meeting of March 11 2021, and to provide transparency regarding its handling of complaints after the meeting,” the statement read.

Weighing in on the matter, Shivambu said Habib “will fall on his sword if he’s not a narcissist”.

Zille said the motion of no confidence was part of “cancel culture” and was “insane”.

“The modern form of medieval witch burning is one of the greatest dangers facing democracies today. For those who think it is not a priority, you will look back in 10 years' time and see how wrong you were,” said Zille.

Earlier Zille said the backlash against Habib on social media was a textbook study of “cancel culture”.

She said Habib expressed “amazement that his words were decontextualised” and his apology ignored.

“These are two of the standard tactics of cancel culture. The first tactic is to take the 'offending act' out of its context, to make it seem as egregious as possible,” said Zille.

“The next is to reject the apology out of hand. Indeed, an apology often makes things worse because it is (mis)interpreted as 'proof' of the seriousness of the offence.”

In his defence, Habib said in a Twitter thread, the videos of him using the N-word, circulated on social media, were deliberately cropped in a way to misrepresent his comments.

“Do I think I did something wrong? No, for reasons I explained above. However, I did apologise because some individuals felt offended, and it was the right thing to do. Did it make a difference? No, because some focus on the politics of spectacle. These are my final words on the issue,” he said.


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