News24

'It's war!'

2008-02-27 23:02

Bloemfontein - A line has been drawn in the sand between black and white students on the campus of the University of the Free State (UFS).

That's the shared sentiment of various black students who took part in a protest march by several hundred students and members of Nehawu on the university campus.

The protest followed the shocking video, produced by white male students at Reitz hostel, that showed five cleaners being "initiated" into the hostel.

The video shows the cleaners drinking a brew in which the students appear to have urinated.

At the end of the video the words "That's what we really think of integration" appear on the screen.

Ntombenhle Buthelezi, one of the students in the protest march, said: "This is just the tip of the iceberg. Racial tension at this campus has been going on for far too long.

"I won't study at the same university as those two."

Another student in the march, who preferred not to be named, said the video was one of the most humiliating things he had ever seen.

"This is war between the blacks and the whites. Since I started studying here, I've always been afraid, and felt that there was oppression."

The march ended at the main building, where Free State Premier Beatrice Marshoff addressed the crowd and expressed her disgust at the contents of the video.

"It is unacceptable! If the university won't act, the government will!"

A letter of protest was handed to Free State MEC for education Casca Mokitlane, and the Rector of UFS, Professor Frederick Fourie.

Fourie emphasised that he shared the indignation of the students about the contents of the video.

Protesters threw stones

The cleaners who appeared in the video were at the front of the protest march. They did not want to speak to Volksblad.

A Nehawu spokesperson said the cleaners were still "too traumatised".

Wednesday morning's march was just the beginning.

Pandemonium broke out shortly afterwards and the police unrest unit had their hands full when the students split into small groups and swept across campus, trying to whip up others.

A large group gathered at the Reitz hostel, protesting and throwing stones, and five of the group were arrested.

Stun grenades were used to disperse protesting students there and elsewhere on campus.

UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader said classes had been suspended for the day, quite early on.

Shouting students ran into several lecture halls and tried to whip up support.

White students were few and far between on campus on Wednesday.

Reitz hostel students formed a furniture barricade around their residence.

Several other students who also live in hostels, barricaded themselves in "for fear for our lives".

Was manhandled

Theology student Cornus Botha said that shortly after the 10:00 lecture started in the CR Swart building, there was a loud bang.

The building filled rapidly with students shouting: "Come out. Come out."

"We didn't how to respond and so we walked out. The guys half-manhandled me. I was kicked in my back and side, several times."

The unrest had quietened down shortly before lunchtime.

But, the mood was far from calm and, for the rest of the day, for black and white students, it ranged between fear, fury and, above all, uncertainty.