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Racist Abuse at South African University Campus Prompts Uproar

Cape Town, South Africa

A video made by White students that showed them humiliating Black university employees has prompted angry protests and criticism that racism remains entrenched in South Africa 14 years after the end of apartheid.

The video, which was made last year and surfaced Tuesday, features Black University of the Free State employees on their knees eating food that had been urinated on by White students.

University authorities said Wednesday they are launching a criminal probe. Two of the students involved left the university last year and the other two have now been barred from campus.

The university suspended all classes to allow emotions to calm after a tense morning of protests during which police used a stun grenade to disperse stone-throwing students. Five students were arrested and later released.

The university in the city of Bloemfontein is regarded as a bastion for Afrikaaners, who are often most closely linked with White apartheid rule. University authorities have been trying to implement more racial integration at campus hostels and it was anger at this policy that apparently prompted the video.

Filmed last year by students from the Reitz men’s residence, it depicts a mock initiation of five Black staff members into hostile activities and refers openly to the university’s diversity policy for campus residences.

The rector, Professor Frederick Fourie, condemned the video and the gross violation of human rights that it portrayed and promised to deal “swiftly and firmly” with the matter, a university spokesman said.

Fourie said he met the workers shown on the video and apologized to them face to face.

The South African Human Rights Commission said it was investigating complaints that the university actually condoned and allowed violations of human rights.

Education minister Naledi Pandor also sent a top official to investigate the matter.

Free State premier Beatrice Marshoff told a protest march that racist acts at the institution, which had so far gone unreported and unchallenged, would no longer be tolerated.

The leader of the White-dominated Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, demanded that the human rights commission take action. The country’s last White president, FW De Klerk, also condemned the video.

Multiracial elections in 1994 ended decades of White rule. But racial undercurrents remain strong even today and permeate almost every aspect of South African society.

There was an outcry last week when White journalists were ejected from a meeting of the Forum for Black Journalists addressed by African National Congress President Jacob Zuma. And tensions are high in the Northwest province where a young White man is on trial for killing four Blacks, including a mother and her infant, in a shooting rampage. There have also been cases of White farmers accused of shooting Blacks and then claiming they mistakenly thought the victim was an animal.

“This barbaric act does not only denigrate and dehumanize those workers, but is a tip of the iceberg of what workers experience daily at the hands of racists who can’t differentiate between a dog, baboon and a human being,” the ANC Youth League said.

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