South Africans unanimous in rejecting racist student video

February 29th, 2008 - 9:54 am ICT by admin  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Feb 29 (IANS) South Africans across the spectrum have been unanimous in their rejection of a racist video made by four white university students that shows elderly black cleaning staff being humiliated, including eating food in which one of the students had allegedly urinated. But two of the students have remained defiant in the face of criminal charges and internal disciplinary steps proposed by the University of Bloemfontein, claiming that they had merely made the video as a drama for a “cultural evening”.

The head student at the Reitz hostel where the incident took place claimed that what was being seen in the video as a student urinating on food was in fact water being squeezed from a bottle. But the National Prosecuting Authority has said it is taking the video footage very seriously and investigating possible charges of assault and crimen injuria against the students.

Calm returned to the university by Thursday evening after almost a week of huge racial tensions on the campus of the university, once reserved in the apartheid era for white students only, as former president F. W. De Klerk came out strongly to reject the incident on behalf of white South Africans.

De Klerk said the actions of the students was “despicable” for the overwhelming majority of white South Africans and Afrikaners who shared in the understandable rage of black South Africans over the incident.

“The challenge in such situations is to resist the temptation to blame individuals’ actions on entire communities or ethnic groups,” De Klerk added.

The premier of the Free State Province, in which Bloemfontein is situated, had to earlier intervene to disperse students who were threatening violence, telling them they were fully justified in undertaking their march, and promising action.

The Human Rights Commission is also expected to launch a full inquiry into the incident, with opposition political parties calling for the investigation to be extended to other institutions with similar issues of racial integration to find the underlying reasons for such issues.

Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said it was very clear that there were still people who wanted to block the continuing process of reconciliation in the country.

Even right-wing Afrikaner political movements condemned the incident, in which the students, after putting the cleaners through a series of humiliating incidents, then declared “that is what we think of integration!”

Two of the students have already completed their studies and are no longer at the university, while the other two, who have been debarred from the campus, issued a lawyer’s letter to the university denying any criminal liability and threatening that they would institute a case of wrongful prosecution if they were charged criminally.

The video came to light after one of the four students ditched a girlfriend, who angrily then distributed the video on the campus, sparking the angry reactions.

A number of universities across South Africa, like the one at Bloemfontein, which were previously reserved for white students only, have been wrestling with the integration of its hostel facilities and some have tried to forcibly integrate black and white students to effect transformation.

The Free State Province, with Bloemfontein as the judicial capital of the apartheid-era South Africa, also had laws on its statute books until just about 15 years ago that prohibited persons of Indian origin, even if they were third or fourth generation South African citizens, from taking up residence or opening businesses in the province.

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