Afrikaner Groups Take Stock After Race Video: 'Could have happened with English students'

South Africa 

Business Day ( South Africa)
March 04, 2008
 

By Sue Blaine

SA AND its Afrikaner community are still reeling from the release of a video in which four male students humiliated five cleaning staff at the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein.

"It took the wind from our sails," Tim du Plessis, editor of Rapport, the influential Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, said.  

Rapport has 1,63- million readers, according to the South African Advertising Research Foundation – the highest penetration of any newspaper in the Afrikaans market.

The incident, which came to light last week, is a reminder of the prevalence of racism in SA, and not just among Afrikaners, political analyst Steven Friedman said.  

"I don’t know that the incident has particularly done something to the Afrikaner community. Why assume that this is specifically an Afrikaner problem? This could have happened among a bunch of English students too."

The four students, two of whom have graduated since the video was made last September, would be criminally charged, UFS spokesman Anton Fisher said. A copy of the video was given to the director of public prosecutions, an investigating officer was assigned and statements were taken from the workers involved, he said.  

The university would also take internal disciplinary action against the two men who were still students.

The video clip was used by the students to make a statement against the racial integration of the university’s residences.  

What was depicted in the video was "particularly bad" for those Afrikaners who were acutely aware of the apartheid past and were trying to "reinvent and re-imagine" themselves, Du Plessis said.

"It was flashed all over the world, and everyone is thinking that all of us are responsible. Not all of us are the same," he said.  

Eleven Afrikaans organisations issued a joint statement at the weekend condemning the video, he said.

The incident, in which the students made workers at the university take part in "disgusting" initiation rites, was "unconditionally rejected", the organisations said.  

It was signed by the civil society lobby group AfriForum; the Afrikanerbond; the Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging (the Afrikaans Language and Culture Organisation); Dames Aktueel; Dames-kring; Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurorganisasies (the Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Organisations, or FAK); Regslui vir Afrikaans (Lawyers for Afrikaans); Rapportryers- beweging; trade union Solidarity, SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (the South African Academy for Science and Art) and the Voortrekkers, a youth organisation.

"We cannot allow that individual students brand the Afrikaans community.  

"These students are not typical of the broader Afrikaner community’s values. This is simply not us," the groups said.

They denounced the incident as a misguided way to highlight legitimate concerns about decisions taken by the university’s management.  

"Afrikaans students in SA have valid democratic goals.

These ambitions encompass the future of mother tongue education, unlimited access to academic institutions and the quality of education.  

"Incidents such as this damage these strivings," the organisations said.

The Afrikaans community had become "a great deal more diverse since the end of apartheid", Friedman said. "I don’t think this reflects on them. They are not responsible for racists at the UFS," he said.  

Du Plessis said the incident had its roots in the culture of initiation at residences. It had to be seen against a broader backdrop of parents who did not explain to their children that SA had changed, Du Plessis said.

"Let people find their own way around univer-sity. Why should there be initiation, or any forced orientation? People must have the right to say, `Sorry, I don’t want to be part of hostel spirit.’ Why can’t they uproot this thing?"  

Initiation at universities was banned by former education minister Kader Asmal, but "a lot of people in positions of authority" at SA’s historically Afrikaans universities quietly turn a blind eye, Du Plessis said.

"They went through the same thing, and they think it’s OK. It is not.  

"These (the workers) are vulnerable people. Many of these boys were cared for by women like that," he said.

Thomas Blaser, education researcher for the South African Institute of Race Relations, said small pockets of Afrikaners felt neglected in the new SA.  

"Their community, where they come from, identified closely with the state. That was their culture, their mental tradition. Now they feel a sense of neglect from institutions and a bit of resentment."

VAK chairman Prof Danie Goosen said this feeling of neglect was fomented by affirmative action, pressure on Afrikaans-medium education and crime.  

"Racism is the result of certain contextual factors, and is strengthened in a certain context.

"Some communities are under threat," he said.  

University of the Free State students hold a prayer meeting for peace after the racist video storm.

 

 

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