Hundreds protest in South Africa against U.S. star Pharrell Williams

CAPE TOWN – About 500 people demonstrated outside a Cape Town venue where Pharrell Williams was due to perform on Monday, in protest against the U.S. pop star’s promotional deal with South African retailer Woolworths and its trade ties with Israel.

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Formula One - F1 - Singapore Grand Prix 2015 - Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore - 18/9/15Pharrell Williams performs on the Padang Stage in Zone 4SGP2015Mandatory Credit: Singapore Grand Prix / Action Images via ReutersLivepic

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The Grammy award-winning producer and performer’s concert was scheduled to go ahead despite the protest, launched by the South African branch of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) movement.

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“By working with Woolworths, Pharrell supports Israel, a country that supports the oppression of Palestine, a country that is the new apartheid state,” said Ashraf Salie, standing amongst a crowd waving Palestinian flags at the entrance to the GrandWest Casino where Williams was performing.

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Pro-Palestinian marches often attract large crowds in South Africa, especially in Cape Town which has a large Muslim community.

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Some passing motorists hooted support to protesters, who held up placards saying “Pharrell is welcome if Gaza is free” and “Pharrell and Woolworths have blood on their hands” as local musicians and artists entertained the crowd from a stage.

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Protesters were allowed to gather under a heavy police presence after the City of Cape Town lost a court case seeking to limit attendance to 150 protesters.

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Williams is collaborating with Woolworths as its style director on several fashion projects as well as fundraising for education.

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Woolworths has said it does not source produce from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, less than 0.1 percent of its food comes from Israel and that it clearly labels every product’s country of origin.

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Security at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus was beefed up at the weekend after a week of violent protests cost the university an estimated R30 million in damages.

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iol news pic DBS Pharrell protest

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Private security personnel armed with paintball guns were brought in by the university on Friday in an effort to protect its property. About 140 guards have been drafted to keep the calm at the campus.

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The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s campuses at Westville, Pietermaritzburg and Howard College are closed due to a scheduled break, while resident students have been granted permission to remain on the campus residences after an instruction by the university management to evacuate by Friday was relaxed.

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Windows have been shattered and doors broken at several buildings on the main campus, while a privately owned bus was set alight, and several other cars parked inside and outside the campus were vandalised amid violent protests by angry students.

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Three campus security guards were also assaulted by students, one so badly that he had to be taken to hospital.

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Campus SRC President Richard Mhlongo said people were quick to judge the actions of the students, while the “real criminals” – the university management – were diverting attention from their wrongs.

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“The protest action is a result of the university wanting to financially burden already struggling students,” he said.

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The students are protesting about issues including the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, fee increases and student accommodation.

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UKZN spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said talks to resolve the issues were continuing with student leaders.

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Seshoka confirmed investigations were under way into the criminal actions of students.

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