Reitz Four want R1m to talk

2011-02-26 17:02

The Reitz Four are truly sorry about humiliating five workers in a racist video and they are willing to talk about their experience – for a fee of R1 million.

Friday night’s reconciliation ceremony at the Free State University campus took an unpleasant turn yesterday when it was revealed that that was the amount the four former students wanted to pocket from speaking to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) about the event.

The bid came just 30 minutes before Roelof Malherbe, Schalk van der Merwe, Johnny Roberts and Danie Grobler stood on a podium and asked the workers for forgiveness.

The BBC asked the men’s lawyer, Christo Dippenaar, who attended the reconciliation function with them, for an interview with the four after the university banned interviews.

Dippenaar responded with a text message to the BBC’s correspondent in South Africa, Karen Allen, in which he demanded R1 million for an exclusive interview.

The BBC refused.

Dippenaar said their negotiations with the BBC did not mean the men’s gesture on Friday night was not honest. “They have been through hell, mainly because of the media,” he said.

Friday night’s ceremony was hailed by the university and the SA Human Rights Commission (HRC) as a “historic” gesture “crucial to national reconciliation and social cohesion in the country”.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Jonathan Jansen, denied that they “manufactured” reconciliation rather than allowing it to happen naturally.

At the ceremony the four former students read a statement of apology which was then accepted by the victims in a corresponding statement.

Sceptical workers, ordinary citizens and students from all race groups criticised the move as a “stage-managed” attempt at reconciliation and a further humiliation for the victims and the perpetrators.

Eighteen months after they told City Press that “we feel like toilets”, Emma Koko, David Molete, Naomi Phororo, Rebecca Adams and Mttah Ntlatseng shook hands with and embraced the former students as media cameras flashed and guests clapped.

The world saw images of the workers on their knees, eating stew into which one of the youths had apparently urinated.

The pictures caused a massive outcry around the world.

The four students were eventually expelled and Reitz hostel, where they stayed, was closed.

Jansen said: “When Nelson Mandela started the process of reconciliation there were always those who asked these kinds of questions (about the honesty of the process).”

Jansen stressed that reconciliation at the university was a process, and said it was not possible for the institution’s 30 000 students and 2 000 staff to agree on everything.

“Are we there? No. Are we getting there? Yes,” he said.

Pregs Govender, deputy chairperson of the HRC, added: “This is not an event. It is a social process. What we have seen here is a significant step towards transformation.”

Commission chairperson Lawrence Mushwana said the saga was “difficult and heart-breaking” but “we crafted what ended up as a reconciliation agreement”.

After a protracted legal battle the commission and the university reached an out-of-court settlement.

 They refused to disclose any details and denied the media access to the victims and former students.

Jansen angrily asked the media to refrain from “trying to embarrass” the university by repeatedly asking for confidential details.

But Senovia Wellman, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) secretary at the university, said although the union had been denied access to the workers since December, it had heard that the settlement included R10?000 in cash, relocation of the workers and registration of a company for them which the university will bankroll until it is profitable.

Commission spokesperson Vincent Moaga dismissed Nehawu’s assertion as “speculation”.

He said media interviews were not allowed because the commission wanted to allow the workers “the necessary private space that they deserve”.

The university’s vice-rector, Teuns Verschoor, apologised to both parties for the way in which the university had initially handled the matter.

He said it had been wrong initially to blame the workers for participating in a “student prank” and also wrong of the university for having turned its back on the students, because they were also subjected to abusive and degrading gestures from the public.

Before the statements, a five-minute video featuring the victims and the perpetrators was shown, alongside pro-reconciliation messages from former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

In the video the victims and perpetrators were seen entering a boardroom together and sitting around the same table, exchanging handshakes and sharing food. They hardly smiled or looked each other in the eye, however.

Read by Grobler, part of the ex-students’ statement said that they expressed “sincere remorse” for the harm they had caused to the university, the workers and South Africa.

“We failed you and we now know that our conduct hurt you deeply. We earnestly request that you find it in your hearts to forgive us for what we did.”

The victims’ acceptance statement, read by Adams, thanked their lawyers, the commission and the university for support, because “it is at this place where we have learnt to treat each child as our own”.

Quoting from the Bible, the statement praised the perpetrators for showing “love”.

The victims and perpetrators hardly smiled or glanced at each other, though, except towards the end, when the workers moved to the youths’ table to exchange hugs.

The victims then broke into a religious song, “Modimo re boka wena! Tsohle di entswe ke wena (We thank you, God. You made everything possible). 

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