Reitz 4 wait to hear fate

2010-07-28 14:06

Bloemfontein - Four former University of Free State students face sentencing on Wednesday after they pleaded guilty to humiliating five black housekeepers in a video depicting racial abuse at the institution.

They made the video in 2007 as students in protest at plans to integrate student housing.

One clip showed a young man apparently urinating into a bowl of stew and then serving it to the housekeepers. It ended with the words: "That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration."

The video sparked an international scandal when it landed on the internet in February 2008.

Guilty plea

Magistrate Mziwonke Hinxa is set to hand down a sentence after he accepted the men's guilty plea on Tuesday to the charge of crimen injuria, or seriously impairing another's dignity, committed against the five housekeepers.

The penalty for the charge is normally a fine, according to the prosecutor's office.

In the statement the boys denied urinating on the food, saying: "It was an act meant to look like urine."

They claimed that one woman whom they had known for three years was approached to recruit other participants for the video.

Mediation efforts failed to resolve the case, with the housekeepers saying they wanted to pursue a trial against the students. The guilty plea avoided what could have been an emotive trial in a case that shocked the country.

'Insensitive, ill considered and wrong'

Defence lawyer Kemp J Kemp told the court that the students had not intended to humiliate the housekeepers, but later realised they had done just that.

"The accused did not realise the effect of the video and what it would have on the university and the plaintiffs. They now, in retrospect, accept that the use of the workers for the video was insensitive, ill considered and wrong," he said.

The video was shot at a time when the University of Free State was introducing racial integration at student hostels, following decades of race-based hostel allocation.

"Workers were asked to participate as they were the only black people available and were familiar with the students," Kemp said, according to The Star newspaper.

Throughout the video, the workers were voluntary contributors, who could have withdrawn at any time and understood they were acting, Kemp said.

Kemp said the students had good relations with the workers until the video hit the internet.

None of the young men - Johnny Roberts, Schalk van der Merwe, RC Malherbe and Danie Grobler - are still studying at the university.

Hostel now a diversity centre

The whites-only male hostel where the video was shot was later shut down and eventually re-opened as a diversity centre to address issues of racism, sexism, xenophobia and reconciliation.

In October last year, university rector Jonathan Jansen came under fire when he announced that the institution was withdrawing disciplinary charges against the students, in an attempt to promote reconciliation.

Jansen was heavily criticised for choosing reconciliation over retribution, igniting further debate about the limits of forgiveness in a nation that has already forgiven much of its racist past.

He invited the students to return to campus to finish their studies - an offer none accepted.

The five workers have also launched a civil case against the four students at the Bloemfontein Equality Court. They are each suing them for R1m.