/ 18 April 2008

Students claim ‘climate of fear’ on UJ campus

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) will investigate allegations of racist incidents on campus where black students say they are ”living in a climate of fear”.

Local South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) chairperson Xolani Mkhwemnte said on Friday there had been an outbreak of ”racially motivated incidents” on the Kingsway campus since Monday this week.

These incidents, he alleged, included the beating up of black students by white students in the Egoli bar at Oppierief residence, harassment of black students walking home at night and verbal and physical abuse of senior black Sasco members.

Sonia Cronje, spokesperson for the university, said on Friday that strong action would be taken against anybody found acting against the university’s commitment to transformation.

According to Sasco member Nazola Ndamase, who is also deputy president of the South African Union of Students, the incidents started just after the launch of the ”Unite against Racism” campaign at Kingsway campus (formerly RAU), where a pledge against racism was read and signed by students last week.

The campaign had been started as a response to the racist video made by white students at the University of the Free State, and as a display of unity with black students there and at the University of Pretoria.

Mkhwemnte described how he himself was accosted as he walked back to his residence at Dromedaris on Thursday night.

”As I was walking across the lawn a white student sitting in a group called me over in a rude manner, gesturing with his finger.

”When I did not go to him he started calling me a bushman and other names, then he came over to me and started pushing me around. Then he shoved me into a clump of bushes,” said Mkhwemnte.

”There have been many incidents like this and we have reported them to the university authorities, but nothing has happened. This time I am laying a charge and the police are coming to take a statement today [Friday].”

Student Representative Council (SRC) president Mhlobowethu Hoyi said the ”university seems unaware of the new dawn of democracy and transformation”.

”Most of the administrators are a bunch of reactionaries who view the student movement as thugs and hooligans … these people are doing everything in their power to protect the legacy of RAU and oppose any transformational initiatives.”

Cronje said the university was concerned that the allegations had been given to the media without any prior communication with university management about the matter.

”Despite the university’s open-door policy and the constructive engagement between UJ’s management executive and its SRC, no attempt was made by Mr Hoyi to discuss the allegations,” said Cronje.

”The university is recognised as being at the forefront of transformation, and has already implemented a number of anti-racism and diversity initiatives.

”Nevertheless we take note of the allegations made in the press statement and will conduct a preliminary investigation. Should any member of the university community be involved in the perpetration of any racist acts the UJ management will not hesitate to act in the strongest possible manner,” Cronje said. — Sapa