Business Day ( South Africa)
March 01, 2008
By Sarah Wild
Student’Racist elements’ have exploited integration at the University of Free State for political purposes . The Freedom Front Plus encouraged students to reject racial integration in residences, writes Sue Blaine.
THE Freedom Front Plus (FF+), which is campaigning for the segregation of university residences, should be investigated for culpability in the production of the racist student video, the Democratic Alliance (DA) says.
The FF+ denounced the video – which has sparked global outrage – as "shocking", and claimed that the four students involved were not members of the party.
The video shows the white students forcing five black hostel cleaners to down beers, take part in races and eat a stew into which one of the students urinated. One of the students announces on the video: "That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration." The students lived in a whites-only residence at UFS.
The DA’s parliamentary leader Sandra Botha has asked the Human Rights Commission to investigate the FF+’s mobilisation of white students against the racial integration of the university’s residences.
The FF+ is the fastest-growing student organisation at South African universities and attracts new members by campaigning against forced integration and for the protection of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
Botha says the incident at UFS did not "happen in a vacuum" and it is clear that the FF+ had mobilised white students to reject the integration of residences.
The party’s student leadership confirms that it is campaigning against mixed-race residences.
"The incident highlights the challenges (to racial harmony in SA) we face, but also that social engineering won’t work. People need to feel safe with one another to live together, not antagonised," says Cornelius Jansen van Rensburg, FF+ youth leader.
"It’s a problem in the whole society. I’ve been called a f**!ing Boer before and no one ever writes about that. People shouldn’t force integration; you should be able to take part as you want to."
In the late 1990s, the UFS first attempted to integrate its residences. This led to violent clashes between white and black students, and a compromise agreement was reached based on freedom of association. This led to the residences becoming "largely white and largely black", says the university on its website.
Jansen van Rensburg is adamant that leaving students to make their own choices will, eventually, lead to racial integration. "After a while, as students work together friendships will start up and integration will follow," he says. "Classes are integrated. If you say that residences should be integrated then you should say that people’s homes should be integrated. (Forcing integration) has got to do with the university management’s fear of government pressure."
Botha says that "racist political elements" have exploited hostel integration at UFS for political purposes. "Leading this charge has been the FF+, as footage captured by the DA at the UFS in July last year demonstrates. At the march, FF+ supporters reportedly sang "Bobbejaan klim die berg". The question can be asked, in the context of the tensions on the campus, who were they referring to?"
Botha says FF+ posters on the UFS campus called on students to "hit first" to prevent racial integration of hostels. "And this is exactly what the four students who made this video have done," she says.
According to Botha, at the FF+ Youth Congress in Orania last week, Van Rensburg asked: "How free am I if government policy determines with whom I share a residence room?"
"Perhaps Van Rensburg should ask himself how free he is if he cannot share a sense of common destiny with South Africans of all races. Retreating into a whites only apartheid-era enclave is not freedom; it is an imprisonment of the mind," Botha says.
She says the leadership of the FF+ must take responsibility for the actions of students who had been incited by the party to reject hostel integration.
The FF+ is a tiny party. Holding four seats in the 400-seat National Assembly, it received 0,89% of votes in the 2004 national polls.
FF+ chief whip Dr Corné Mulder says his party "repeatedly strongly condemned" the racist video. He says the party is proAfrikaans, pro-freedom of association and pro-minority rights.
"The FF+ represents the views of the broader Afrikaans community and also embodies the frustrations which they are experiencing in SA at present," Mulder says.
"Affirmative action, quotas, forced integration, cultural vandalism, language marginalisation on campuses and crime are but a few of the many issues which alienate the Afrikaner youth."
He says the party’s strong representation on campuses enabled it to say "with certainty" that it speaks on behalf of "the vast majority of Afrikaans youth". Support for the FF+ youth structures is growing – in 2003 it had 2000 members; now it claims 9000.
The FF+ leads the student representative councils (SRC) at the universities of the Free State and Pretoria, is in a coalition SRC at the Tshwane University of Technology and has its sights on the universities of Stellenbosch, Johannesburg and the Potchefstroom campus of North West University.
While its membership is miniscule among the 740000-odd students in tertiary education in SA, it does show that "something is going on", says Thomas Blaser, education researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations. "There is a strong group that feels more offended and left out (than the majority) and they protest and mobilise. They are not representative of the majority," Blaser says.
The tragedy of the UFS video is that it undermines young Afrikaners’ legitimate concerns, says Prof Danie Goosen, chairman of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge (Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Organisations). "There is huge dissatisfaction among Afrikaners generally with the authorities … (because of) the government’s pressure on single-medium Afrikaans schools; the pressure on Afrikaans at university level, where it is marginalised; the totalitarian way in which representivity is being applied in SA; … and the crime situation, which has had a devastating effect on the Afrikaans community, as it has had on all South Africans," he says.
"Sadly, no one under
stands each other (yet), and then the lines harden…. Then you have political entrepreneurs who exploit this in a bad way."
"The FF+ must take responsibility for the actions of students who had been incited by the party to reject hostel integration"