14/05/2018 13:08 SAST | Updated 14/05/2018 13:09 SAST

Petition Against AfriForum Over Threat To Academics

"We as members of the academic community of South Africa strongly condemn this attack on a fellow academic in the strongest terms."

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AfriForum deputy CEO Ernst Roets during a media briefing on March 19 2018 in Centurion.

A petition has been launched in the name of South African academics demanding that AfriForum condemn remarks by its deputy CEO, who launched a scathing online attack against a prominent land-reform academic.

By midday on Monday, the petition had reached 50 signatures.

Earlier this month, AfriForum deputy CEO Ernst Roets published a 31-minute monologue on YouTube in which he slammed Professor Elmien du Plessis from North-West University, and concluded his video by quoting Jewish writer Victor Klemperer, who wrote that if the tables were turned after the Holocaust, he "would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lamp posts for as long as was compatible with hygiene."

In the video, the AfriForum leader identifies Du Plessis as "an intellectual, professor and academic" and later refers to her as "a so-called progressive professor". Du Plessis specialises in land reform and property law.

Roets' comments have since been criticised by a number of academics, including University of Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib.

READ: AfriForum Heavyweight Launches Attack On Academic Over Criticism About US Tour

"This statement is irresponsible hate speech and amounts to incitement to violence. To compare himself to a Holocaust survivor is completely inappropriate. South Africa has a tragic history of physical violence against academics who dared to speak truth to power... Afriforum should, as an organisation [that claims] to uphold the values of the Constitution, join us in condemning the remarks of their deputy leader, as these remarks clearly undermine one of the most precious of our Constitutional values — that of freedom of speech that forms the basis of academic freedom," the petition reads.

"We as members of the academic community of South Africa strongly condemn this attack on a fellow academic in the strongest terms. Instead of debating her, Afriforum resorts to threats to her, but also to the academic community as a whole... With this type of behaviour [Roets] and Afriforum contribute to the political polarisation in South Africa at a time that we hardly can afford it."

AfriForum could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.