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Madonsela says Habib 'lacked social intelligence' when using N-word, but the backlash is 'sad to watch'

19 March 2021 - 10:40 By cebelihle bhengu
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela said while Adam Habib had no right to use the N-word, the backlash he is getting from South Africans is 'sad to watch'. File photo.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela said while Adam Habib had no right to use the N-word, the backlash he is getting from South Africans is 'sad to watch'. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela says Prof Adam Habib lacked “social intelligence” when he used the N-word during a discussion with students.

The students had called a meeting to complain about some lecturers using the word. Habib then used the word in full.

Madonsela said the “vitriolic campaign” from some South Africans, seemingly “to settle old scores”, is “sad to watch”.

The former public protector on Thursday joined scores who responded to reports about Habib stepping aside from his new role as the director at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), pending an investigation of his use of the N-word last week.

Madonsela said Habib, as a “generically black South African”, felt entitled to use the N-word which showed a lack of “social intelligence required in his new environment”. 

The suspension

SOAS board chairperson Marie Staunton said Habib stepped aside on Thursday so as not to compromise the investigation. Staunton said the institution would engage all parties involved in the incident which included Habib's “unreserved apology”.

Reactions to Madonsela's response 

Madonsela's response received mixed responses on social media. Some accused her of “defending the indefensible” and asked the former public protector to explain the term “generically black”. 

Responding to the backlash, Madonsela asked for a video “for a full analysis”. Further defending Habib, she said the former Wits vice-chancellor is one of SA's social justice champions.

“I know he cares about social justice, including the capitalisation of students and communities that remain historically disadvantaged,” her tweet reads in part.

Here's what was said in response to Madonsela:

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