An objective of the Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma conference at Stellenbosch University is to bring together scholars and practitioners to deliberate on important questions relating to historical wounding and haunting legacies as a result of trans-generational trauma. To name but a few: What is the appropriate response to the echoes of historical wounding that extend far beyond the generation that experienced the trauma directly?
What strategies might quell the haunting repercussions of genocide, slavery, colonial oppression, and mass violence that play out in the lives of affected individuals and groups from both sides of these acts?
It is therefore regrettable that the Israeli | Palestinian narrative has now spilled over to the conference, achieving exactly the opposite of the vision for the event, and in the process attempting to vilify Stellenbosch University and Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, chair of the conference committee and incumbent of the Research Chair for Historical Trauma and Transformation at the University.
I would like to state the following unequivocally: Stellenbosch University supports freedom of expression and academic freedom, and is no way anti-Semitic or anti-Palestinian. Terminology such as “disinvited, uninvited or invitation unilaterally cancelled” in reference to speakers who will no longer be attending, is simply not true.
At no point did the conference organisers or Stellenbosch University request or suggest that any speaker should withdraw from the event. Neither were any individuals singled out or vilified on Stellenbosch University’s social media platforms. The University has no control over the newsletters or social media platforms of external organisations.
Prof Gobodo-Madikizela continued her engagement with the various role players in a spirit of reconciliation, expressing regret over their withdrawal and assuring them of their safety in South Africa if they were to attend. When the first statement expressing opposition to the participation of Israeli speakers came to the attention of the organisers, a strategic decision was taken to remove the names of individuals and their institutions from the website (not from the programme) as a precautionary measure to prevent academics and their institutions from being targeted, and to prevent the conference from derailing.
Israeli delegates decided to withdraw their participation as a result of circumstances beyond the control of the University and the conference organising committee. The most disappointing outcome of this sequence of events is the absence of robust debate on the Israeli | Palestinian issue at the conference.
Statement issued by Prof Wim de Villiers Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Stellenbosch Universy, 29 November 2018