University of Pretoria in new race row over 'black cancer'

Pretoria - A University of Pretoria student has fellow students at the institution up in arms after calling some black students a cancer to society and endorsing US presidential candidate Donald Trump as "Emperor" in a student WhatsApp group.

The student has since read out an apology to the class.

The racist tirade started after a student, who has not responded to News24 requests for comment, posted a message on the Third Year Civil Engineering students WhatsApp group in Afrikaans. Other students on the group asked if all communications could be in English as others did not understand Afrikaans.

The request sparked a flurry of responses with the student, Lourens Van Niekerk, taking it a step further. 

"Omg all the blacks who agree with that potato who thinks everything should be English are a cancer to this society. You are all ignorant...male oppressors," Van Niekerk posted.

"This is why Trump is the God Emperor of mankind. He sees right through you. Stop taking everything for granted and blaming whites. Our privileges have been earned. I'm over this shit. Cheerz"

Attempts to contact Van Niekerk for comment on Thursday failed.

Student made to apologise

The message irked other students in the group. The matter was escalated to the head of department Professor Wynand Steyn.

However, Tsholanang Mabiletsa, who is part of the WhatsApp group, said the issue was not treated with the seriousness it deserved.

"The professor made him apologise in class but Lourens read from a paper and we couldn't even hear him. The professor [then re-read it on his behalf] and said whoever is not happy can send him an e-mail," she said.

News24 has been given a recording of the proceedings of the day when he offered the apology.

Steyn started off by informing the students that he had held a discussion on the issue seeking advice from people on how best to handle the matter.

"We have discussed the seriousness of the offence and they agree that it's serious and unacceptable. Everybody I spoke to agrees that one should get this to conclusion and we can't leave it like that," he told the students.

'Different in our own special way'

Steyn further indicated that he had held discussions with Van Niekerk and he would apologise to the class. Van Niekerk read out his apology but others complained they couldn't hear him.

Van Niekerk continued. At the end of the apology, others clapped for him.

Steyn then took the paper and read the apology louder for all to hear.

The apology read, "I'm apologising to you...for the way my WhatsApp message offended some of you. What I said during my period of personal stress should have focused on that no single race or gender is superior to another and must be respected equally. I believe that each of us are different in our own special way and we also have qualities that make us all humans and therefore each of us should be treated with respect and dignity. Please therefore accept my unconditional apology and allow me to make a positive difference in this group of students."

Matter under investigation

Despite that explanation, Mabiletsa said she had written an e-mail to Steyn on August 20, two weeks after the incident occurred, as no action had been taken.

"I feel that by Lourens not being subjected to a disciplinary investigation, two weeks after the fact, is to a certain extent showing bias towards him. We all have personal problems that we deal with...daily, but that is no way an excuse to degrade other individuals' basic human rights," she said.

Mabiletsa further explained in her e-mail that the country has for the past ten months been up in arms over racial issues. Citing incidents including the Penny Sparrow saga, Mabiletsa said it was clear to all how sensitive the issue of race was.

"So Lourens, or anybody for that matter cannot claim to be unaware of the sensitivities surrounding issues of race. Respectfully, what does Donald Trump have to do with class politics, or Lourens's personal problems to say the least? Myself and other students would like for Lourens van Niekerk be taken through the entire disciplinary process," she said.

Steyn responded by saying he would be forwarding it for further consultation with the legal advisor as soon as she was available. He said he was waiting for feedback and would inform students on the next step.

"After that I must gauge if the group of students accept that as the end point or if it needs to go any further. Then I must advise her," said Steyn in an email to one of the students.

That however is said to never have happened. Mabiletsa said she went to legal services and was informed that the matter had been transferred to the HR department. She said when she got there she was told the matter had been resolved.

"I went to legal services a week later and they told me it was transferred to human resources because they were under the impression that the apology was accepted and it was just a few elements which were unhappy. I went to HR and they said they were under the impression everything was fine. Everything was misrepresented. She didn't even know everything that led to that message," said Mabiletsa.

University of Pretoria spokesperson Anna-Retha Bouwer said the matter would be investigated by the institution in terms of its disciplinary code for students. She further indicated that action would also be taken if it was to be found that anyone breached codes and policies of the university.

"Hate speech and incitement to violence will not be tolerated at the University of Pretoria. The incident, together with several allegations associated with it, has been brought to the attention of the university. The matter is now under investigation. Should anyone - staff or student - be found to have contravened the relevant codes and policies of the university, the applicable sanctions will be invoked," she said.

The incident comes after an SRC member took to Facebook to say he would kill white people using a bazooka or AK47. SRC study finances officer Luvuyo Menziwa was suspended from his position after the post.

The institution initiated an investigation into the matter.

 - Names and numbers were removed from the Whatsapp thread.

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