Jansen clarifies Reitz statement

Charges against four University of the Free State students over a videotaped racist incident have not been withdrawn, UFS vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen said on Monday evening.

“This needs to be clarified,” he said in a statement.

“There are three processes under way, and they must not be confused.”

He said the criminal charges by the Directorate of Special Prosecutions in the province, and the human rights charges by the Human Rights Commission were still under way.

“The university simply withdrew its own complaint against the students, insofar as university processes are concerned, and on that basis decided to invite the students back to continue their studies and to re-open Reitz [hostel] as a model of social justice and racial reconciliation as an exemplary university residence.”

Jansen said the decision, which fell within the university’s authority, was based on two things.

“The institution’s own accountability for what happened, and creating the conditions under which racism and racist attacks were even possible on the campus ... the institution’s desire to create the conditions for racial reconciliation on a deeply divided campus, and in doing so to accelerate the chances of transformation at the UFS.”

There were “broad consultations” about the need to resolve the issue, he said.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Monday commended Jansen for withdrawing the charges.

“Your magnanimity has aroused the ire of quite a few, who argue that it could encourage a repeat of such despicable conduct; and that the perpetrators should be dealt with firmly and not with a sentimental wishy-washiness,” said Tutu, describing the incident as “disgusting”.

“I, on the contrary, salute you, for you have done us proud,” he said in commending Jansen for forgiving the students and allowing them to return to complete their studies.

In 2007, the four students videotaped Reitz residence cleaners eating meat that had allegedly been urinated on.

In his inauguration address in Bloemfontein on Friday, Jansen reportedly apologised to the country for the actions of Johnny Roberts, Danie Grobler, Schalk van der Merwe and RC Malherbe.

However, he was quickly criticised for short-circuiting the judicial process.

Human Rights Commission of South Africa advocate Mothusi Lepheana said the body would still pursue its “precedent-setting” civil action against the university and the four students, and could serve the documents as soon as this week.

The African National Congress also rejected the decision, saying it would not lead to reconciliation, but would harden racial attitudes in both the university and the country. - Sapa