Invasion of dignity

2008-02-28 00:00

A small group of white students at the University of the Free State has seriously damaged the university’s good name by producing a racist video which demeans a group of black workers on the campus. The video includes shocking footage of these workers being forced to their knees to eat food that has been urinated upon. This provides a sobering reminder that brutal and bullying racism is still alive and well in some quarters of South African society.

To his credit, the rector of the university, Professor Frederick Fourie, has denounced the video as a gross violation of the dignity of the workers involved. The offending students have been immediately suspended and criminal charges will be brought against them. Fortunately, such behaviour cannot, as in the apartheid past, be treated with impunity as some kind of joke. Political parties across the board have roundly condemned it, aware that the country’s Constitution protects the dignity and equality of every citizen.

The former Afrikaans-speaking universities have experienced particular difficulties in absorbing the changes required by an open and free democratic society. For they were more than centres of academic learning and research; they were bastions of Afrikaner culture and language. These monoliths had to be dismantled and a new order introduced, recognising that a true Afrikaner identity can best survive and thrive as one among others in a broad interlocking spectrum of language, race, religion and culture. Many Afrikaners have made this adjustment in their thinking and behaviour, and brutal racism from an intransigent minority does them no favours. It also casts an ugly slur on the life of the nation as a whole.

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