For those of you who thought that the racist UFS [University of the Free State] student video was a storm in a teacup, think again. The Mail & Guardian has uncovered accounts of race-based victimisation, torture and intimidation at UFS residences. Much of this occurred during drunken initiation rites but it is clear from the article that day-to-day life for black students in formerly white hostels hasn’t been much better:
One student complains of being “yelled at, jerked around by clothing, limbs, neck or head, being locked in smelly dark rooms, humiliated, degraded, tortured, profane language used”, while black first-years were continuously required to serve their white seniors.
Another black student recounts how he was locked in a cupboard with a sack of rotten potatoes after being forced to read a Freedom Front Plus poster.
It would appear that letters by persecuted black students to UFS authorities have fallen on deaf ears. But not only this: the staff have turned a blind eye to the ritual initiation which was banned and yet still tolerated.
JC Van der Merwe [head of philosophy at UFS] said he had “felt terrible” after sitting in on initiation ceremonies at which black students were verbally and racially abused.
“I felt I was condoning this racist abuse and went to speak to the rector. The orientation of first years is no longer allowed, but it happens and we’ve been keeping quiet because we don’t want to tamper with traditions and cultural issues.”
So there you have it: the UFS authorities effectively condoning heinous, degrading racism. This is shocking and completely unacceptable. The university needs to investigated by a credible and unbiased commission without delay. Racism has been allowed to continue to flourish because the university never had the guts to stamp it out. By tolerating racism, a precedent was set.
Some thought that the revelation of the student video was blown out of all proportion in the press. My view is that it’s merely opened a can of worms. Despicable, racist worms.
To read the M&G exposé click here.