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In May, students in South African universities took part in pro-Palestine protests, setting up an encampment known as the “Liberated Zone” at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The students’ demands included a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from Israel-linked companies. While South Africa has shown support for Palestine globally, local universities have been hesitant to sever ties with Israel. The University of Cape Town had yet to make a decision on cutting ties with Israel-linked institutions, despite government officials urging universities to take a stand and institute academic boycotts.

The students at Wits University were inspired by protests in other countries and were determined to push university management to disclose its ties with Israel. The university’s response was to vote in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza but push back against other demands from the students. Eventually, security officials evicted the students from the encampment, leading to protests and calls for a full academic boycott to show solidarity with Palestine. The University of Johannesburg did end its relationship with an Israeli university in 2011, but South African universities have largely resisted calls for an academic boycott.

At the University of Cape Town, students also set up a pro-Palestine encampment to demand financial and academic boycotts of Israel due to the ongoing Gaza war and occupation of Palestinian land. The university management did not engage with the students but supported their right to protest peacefully. While the encampment was disbanded due to health concerns, students remained committed to ensuring a full academic boycott and protest against the ongoing violence in Gaza. Other universities in South Africa, such as the University of Fort Hare, have taken a stronger stance against Israeli institutions.

South Africa’s politicians have been vocal in their support for Palestine, urging universities to follow the example of anti-apartheid actions and lead by providing moral and political leadership. Deputy Higher Education Minister Buti Manamela emphasized that universities could not remain neutral on the issue and should boycott Israel. International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor called on South African students to lead the way in supporting Palestinians, highlighting the need for institutions of higher learning to stand against injustice. The government has cautioned universities against shutting down protests in support of Palestine, emphasizing the importance of taking a clear stance against oppression.

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