Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Integration Woes Plague South African University (Re-post from March 14, 2008)

June 6th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

White students at South Africa’s University of the Orange Free State force Black workers at the school to eat urine-tainted food from dishes placed on the ground. The video of these antics surfaced in late winter.

I’ve been following the story of the struggle to integrate the higher education system in South Africa’s Orange Free State. For those who are not familiar with this region, this excerpt from a January report in The City Press, a southern African news weekly, describes a bit of the history of this region, known as a haven for many of the most inflexible of South Africa’s white apartheid supporters:

THE Orange Free State was one of the four provinces of the old republic. And it was the province most notorious for practising the worst forms of racism.

Having run away from the “liberal” Cape, the descendants of the Dutch settlers established the “Vrystaat” ["free state"] as their own ­Canaan.

Blacks of Indian origin could not even sleep over in the province. They could only drive through.

from City Press, March 1, 2008

According to City Press, IOL, and other South Africa-based news sources, the UFS administration has continued to take proactive steps toward opening the institution to students of color. City Press notes that, “Over the past few years the university’s administration has tried hard to enforce transformation.” The white students at the institution, however, have been somewhat more resistant to the change in the racial makeup of the student body, and much of their resistance has taken place within the residence halls (called hostels), a flashpoint for conflict between students of color and white student segregationists.

During the last few weeks, the University of the Free State (UFS), a self-described “multicultural” institution located in the region’s major city of Bloemfontein, has hit a particularly rocky patch on the road toward integration. The conflict between the administration of the University, which supports full integration, and those white students who wish to preserve segregation in the residence halls has come to a head around the leak of a racist video made by a handful of students.

The video depicts black custodial staff being subjected to racist humiliation and abuse by white student residents of the Reitz hostel, first established 12 years ago, by white students opposed to the integration of campus living facilities. In it, black residence hall employees are tricked into eating food that has been contaminated with urine.

A recent report on CNN.com [February 28, 2008] describes the video:

In the video, white male students at Reitz Residence are seen encouraging at least three black female housekeepers to participate in what the students call the “Reitz Fear Factor,” an apparent reference to the television show in which contestants eat live worms or compete in other feats.

In one scene from the video, a student mixes what looks like a beef stew in a plastic bowl and adds garlic and other items. Then he tells the camera he will add the “special ingredient.”

The student then urinates into the mixture, which he later stirs up and puts in a microwave. Other students can be heard laughing on the tape.

The next scene shows a different student urging at least three housekeepers to drink cups full of the stew, saying, “This is our dorm’s ‘Fear Factor.’ We want to see who has the best ‘Fear Factor.’”

On the video, the student does not tell the women that there is urine in the mixture.

The women, on their knees, spit the stew into buckets after tasting it. Some appeared to vomit, but the women also laughed during the incident as the student urged them on.

Next, the women struggle to run in what appears to be a race. The video is put in slow-motion as the theme from “Chariots of Fire” plays.

Finally, one of the students awards a large bottle of whiskey to one of the women, telling her she has won the “Fear Factor.”

At the end of the video, a message appears on the screen in Afrikaans saying, “That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration.”

Click on this link to watch a CNN-edited montage of clips from the student-made video.

In a report on South African news site IOL.co.za, journalists Beauregard Tromp and Botho Molosankwe, describe the developments that led up to the creation and leak of the video:

The video – planned and made by hostel residents Roelof Malherbe, Schalk van der Merwe, Danie Grobler and Johnny Roberts in September to protest against the racial integration of Reitz – was leaked, apparently by a scorned girlfriend of one of the men.

The residence was started 12 years ago by white students angered at being forced to share a hostel with blacks during the university’s first attempt at integration. At the time, the residence was a guesthouse on campus.

Left unchecked, Reitz quickly developed a reputation as a hotbed of racism, associated with drunken behaviour.

For black students, the area in front of the hostel was an unofficial no-go zone, which, if they went near it, resulted in a barrage of racist verbal abuse.

On numerous occasions, the local campus newspaper reported racist incidents involving Reitz residents. In one, a black female student was attacked.

On the face of it, the university allowed the situation to continue unchecked

Racial tensions began to peak in the middle of last year when the senate passed a motion to start integrating hostels, with the goal of full integration within three years. Initially they would aim for a 70-30 percent split this year.

The goal was achieved in the women’s hostels.

However, in traditionally white hostels, less than 15 percent of the men are black. And no white students took up accommodation in traditionally black hostels, instead opting to find digs off campus.

–from Iol.co.za, Feburary 29, 2008

The surfacing of this video has sparked widespread anti-racist protest in the Orange Free State and beyond, including today’s protest (March 14, 2008), in which roughly “1000 union members affiliated to the Congress of SA Trade Unions” marched to the University of the Free State to hand over a “memorandum on racism.” Workers at UFS have been picketing the Rietz residence for the last two days. (Source: IOL.ca.za)

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Posted in Apartheid, Higher Education, Orange Free State, race, racism, South Africa

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