Cabinet voices displeasure over Reitz decision

The Cabinet has expressed strong displeasure with University of the Free State vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen’s decision to drop the university’s internal charges against the students who “humiliated the workers at the institution”.

“The process that led to the dropping of the charges was flawed in that it did not follow the established norm of getting the perpetrators to admit guilt, to apologise to the victims before any charges could be dropped and to initiate a reconciliation process,” government spokesperson Themba Maseko told a media briefing on Thursday.

Cabinet would be the first among those who promoted reconciliation to take South Africa forward, he said. However, reconciliation involved both parties moving towards one another and should include some indication of remorse on the part of the perpetrators.

“The manner in which this matter was handled suggests that the rights of the perpetrators have been given preference over the dignity and rights of the victims.”

At its regular fortnightly meeting on Wednesday, Cabinet supported Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s call for the university to initiate an inclusive and consultative process to deal with this matter and to address racism at the institution.

Nzimande had written to Jansen asking for an explanation, Maseko said.

Jansen came under fire from various quarters, including Nzimande and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, earlier this week for his decision.

Four former students of the now-closed Reitz Men’s residence in Bloemfontein—RC Malherbe, Johnny Roberts, Schalk van der Merwe and Danie Grobler—are accused of filming a mock initiation of five black staff members into hostel activities.

The students will go on trial for crimen injuria on October 26, but in the meantime, Jansen decided to withdraw the university’s internal processes against the students in the interests of racial reconciliation.

When making the announcement last Friday, Jansen said he had consulted people across the country.

Jansen, however, said on Thursday that support for the decision to the drop charges outweighed the negative reaction.

Speaking to a group of Bloemfontein businesspeople, Jansen said he wanted to create a campus where people would take responsibility for their actions, but the door should always be open for “compassion”.—Sapa

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