The Times ( London)
February 28, 2008
By Jonathan Clayton, Johannesburg
A video showing four white Afrikaner students forcing five black domestic workers to eat dirty meat and drink soup into which they had urinated has inflamed racial tensions and provoked violent protests between students
The home-made video, which was made to protest about moves to integrate black and white students in the same university residences, shows students at the University of the Free State humiliating black workers, some of whom are elderly
A violent backlash against the film caused all classes to be suspended yesterday as hundreds of staff and students marched in protest. Police fired stun grenades to disperse an angry crowd gathered outside the whites-only halls of residence where the film was shot.
In the videothe white students, who make no attempt to hide their faces, order the black people who were cleaners at the whites-only Reitz hostel to down full bottles of beer. They then lead them to a playing field where they are told to display their athletic skills. In the final extract a white man urinates on food and into a plastic soup container. Then, shouting: "Take! Take!" in Afrikaans – he apparently forces the campus employees to eat the dirty food, causing them to vomit.
A narrative in Afrikaans indicates that the recording was made in protest against the university integration policy. Last month there were angry demonstrations on campus against the policy by mainly white students. "Once upon a time the boere (Afrikaners) lived peacefully here on Reitz Island, until one day when the less-advantaged discovered the word ‘integration’ in the dictionary," a resident of the men’s hostel says.
The video ends with the words: "That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration." Anton Fisher, a university spokesman, said that the cleaners, four women and one man, were duped – an act which has increased anger over the video.
The spectacle of young whites exploiting older black cleaners, considered to be some of the most vulnerable people in the country, has outraged public opinion across the spectrum and triggered nationwide soul-searching over the level of racism in the country 14 years since the end of apartheid. It comes at a time of increased political tension with many whites accusing the Government of having abandoned its all-inclusive "rainbow nation" approach in favour of positive discrimination which they say has veered towards reverse racism. Blacks have countered that Nelson Mandela tried too hard to reconcile with old-school whites who refuse to change their ways.
The university, which is located in what was previously the Orange Free State – a bastion of Afrikanerdom – is known for having predominantly white students since the days of apartheid. It has encountered difficulties trying to integrate people from other racial groups. Student groups say that they are now planning to call nationwide anti-racism demonstrations in response to the video.
Frederick Fourie, the university’s rector, said that he was "extremely upset about the incident".
The four students who have been identified in the video could face serious action. Two have already left the university and so cannot be suspended or expelled, but all four could face criminal charges.
Feelings are running high on the campus, which has split along racial lines over the issue. Many white students – while distancing themselves from the video – say that the four are in danger of being made scapegoats over a policy of integration that is being forced down their throats. Black students say that they cannot study alongside white students who do not unequivocally condemn the video and its purpose.
The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) said yesterday that racial tensions in the country appear to have risen over the past month.
Frans Cronje, the deputy chief executive officer at the institute, said that a spate of recent events raised concerns about whether South Africa was able to build on the general improvement in race relations the institute has monitored over the past years.
He referred to a racist shooting in the North West of the country, where a young white man allegedly went on a shooting spree in a township that claimed several black lives, including a young child. The Forum for Black Journalists then ejected white colleagues from a recent "blacks only" meeting with Jacob Zuma, the newly elected President of the ruling African National Congress. Mr Zuma, who is in line to take over as the country’s president when Thabo Mbeki steps down in 2009, said that he saw nothing wrong with a "blacks only" meeting – a comment which many non-blacks interpreted as the end of an attempt to build an all-inclusive, multi-racial society as promised in the ANC’s founding charter and the country’s current constitution.
"Actions such as these shown on the video will do great damage to race relations in South Africa. It probably sets us back a significant amount of time," Mr Cronje said.