The University of Cape Town (UCT) has launched an investigation into comments made by an academic who said Adolf Hitler “committed no crime”.
In a pre-recorded lecture shared online with first-year political science students, Lwazi Lushaba, a lecturer in the department of political studies at the institution, said: “Hitler committed no crime. All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”
The German dictator, one of the most reviled figures in history, orchestrated the deaths of six million Jews during the Holocaust in World War 2, between 1941 and 1945.
Lushaba’s comments came days before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) is observed by South African Jews on Friday.
TimesLIVE has seen a 12-second clip of the video.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the institution “notes with grave concern” the comments allegedly made by a staff member during an online class.
“We are verifying all the facts. In the meantime, the university is clear that all brutalities of genocide constitute both formal crimes against humanity and ongoing sources of pain. We distance ourselves very strongly from any other view.”
Moholola said the matter was receiving attention through all appropriate channels.
Lushaba’s comments have been slammed by the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies and UCT students.
A student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “As a Jewish man, I feel it’s an absolutely insensitive comment.
“Hitler didn’t just persecute Jews. He also persecuted black people, gypsies and disabled people. Six million people died in the Holocaust and the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day has been a part of my life.”
The student said his great-grandfather was a victim of the Holocaust.
“If you are a professor or lecturer in political studies, you should know that it is a terrible thing to say and to say that in a lecture is super-unprofessional and just a bad move.”
He added: “To think that the comment that Hitler committed no crime would ever fly and not become an issue is insane.”
Another student said: “For anyone interested, Lushaba has been saying similarly egregious things since he got his doctorate.”
A third student said: “Any time he gets hauled before the powers that be, he claims either racism or free speech.”
TimesLIVE understands that one of the students was planning to lodge a complaint about Lushaba’s comments with UCT.
Tzvi Brivik, chairperson of the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said its anti-Semitism and legal subcommittee was investigating the video.
He confirmed they were also in possession of the video and supporting evidence, and “find what we’ve seen on the short recording deplorable”.
“To deny the tragedy which was the Holocaust, or the culpability of those involved, is to deny deep pain and lifelong trauma inflicted upon entire generations of Jews globally.
“To represent genocide as a justifiable action against a minority in a political education space is shameful at best and devastating to students reliant on educators to help form their views.”
Brivik said the bounds of academic freedom and freedom of expression must not undermine the central aim of the constitution, which is to build a united and democratic SA based on mutual respect, understanding and human dignity.
“Universities hold a lens to the socio-economic and political issues in the broader public and in this way help shape the minds of the future leaders of our country.
“The personal views shared by this UCT lecturer were hateful and deeply offensive, and should have no part in the academic syllabus of a public university, nor be disseminated as such,” said Brivik.
Lushaba refused to be drawn on whether his comments were insensitive or deeply offensive, saying repeatedly: “If you knew what university lectures are, you won’t be asking me that question you are asking me.”
He declined to make any other comments.
Lushaba is no stranger to controversy. In 2019 he received a letter of reprimand from UCT for conduct that was “unacceptable, inappropriate and disrespectful” after stomping on ballot boxes and carrying out verbal and physical attacks after becoming unhappy with the outcome of a vote for the dean of humanities.
This came after his preferred candidate for the job — a black South African woman — received only 27% of the votes.