News24

Possible delay in Reitz case

2009-10-25 23:03

Bloemfontein - The State might have to ask for a postponement in the crimen injuria trial of four former University of the Free State students, which was expected to start in Bloemfontein on Monday.

"It might be that the State would ask for the postponement to carefully consider the issue in light of representation received from the defence on Wednesday," spokesperson for the national prosecuting authority's office in Bloemfontein, Medupe Simasiku, said on Sunday.

The two-day trial of the four former students of the now-closed Reitz men's residence on the UFS's Bloemfontein campus would be heard in the city's regional court.

RC Malherbe, Johnny Roberts, Schalk van der Merwe and Danie Grobler are accused of humiliating five black staff members in an initiation-type ceremony which they filmed. The four women cleaners and a man are seen on their hands and knees eating food which had apparently been urinated into by a white student. The students also express opposition to the university's integration policy in the video.

The ANC in the Free State indicated that its alliance partners would picket at the Bloemfontein court during the trial. A protest march to the University of the Free State was also planned for next Friday.

The video, which was made in 2007 and surfaced in February 2008, caused a national and international outcry.

Apology

The UFS closed Reitz and changed the building into an "institute for diversity".

Two of the students still on campus at the time, Malherbe and van der Merwe, apologised for their involvement before leaving.

They submitted they acted without malicious intent. They expressed remorse for the embarrassment they might have caused to any individual or group, including their parents.

New UFS Rector Jonathan Jansen caused another stir in the saga after announcing at his inauguration last Friday that the institution had pardoned the four students, and that they could finish their studies if they wished to do so.

Jansen said the university would look into the role it played in the matter and endeavour to bring about racial reconciliation.

"The institution's own accountability for what happened, and creating the conditions under which racism and racist attacks were even possible on the campus... the institution's desire to create the conditions for racial reconciliation on a deeply divided campus, and in doing so to accelerate the chances of transformation at the UFS."

Reopen discussions

The move drew criticism, notably from Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, Cosatu and the ANC Youth League, as well as praise in the past week. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the SA Institute of Race Relations backed Jansen's decision.

On Sunday the UFS announced it would reopen discussions on the matter.

"All stakeholders inside and outside the UFS are invited to meet with the university management to table their concerns and to try to find consensus on a way forward," Jansen said in a statement.