Reitz 4 decision 'insensitive'

2009-10-21 16:02

Johannesburg - University of the Free State rector Jonathan Jansen must suspend his decision to drop a complaint against the "Reitz Four", the ministry for higher education said on Wednesday.

"We call for the suspension of the decision to withdraw the complaint and re-admit the students, pending the outcome of a process of institution-wide, meaningful consultation, and that the minister be advised on any consequent action that might need to be taken," the ministry said in a statement.

Four former students of the now-closed Reitz Men's residence in Bloemfontein - RC Malherbe, Johnny Roberts, Schalk van der Merwe and Danie Grobler - are accused of filming a mock initiation of five black staff members into hostel activities.

Black university employees were seen on their hands and knees eating food which had apparently been urinated into by a white student.

The students will go on trial for crimen injuria on October 26, but in the meantime, Jansen decided to reopen the hostel and withdraw the university's internal processes against the students in the interests of racial reconciliation.

Decision 'insensitive'

But the ministry believes the decision was insensitive and taken without consultation. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande had not received a report on the matter by close of business on Monday as expected, the statement added.

"We had hoped that the report would explain the circumstances and processes which led to the announcement.

"Contrary to public assertions by Professor Jansen, neither the minister nor any member of his staff was consulted nor informed of this decision prior to the announcement last Friday."

When making the announcement, Jansen had said he had consulted people across the country.

Nzimande and his colleagues left the university after a recent visit inspired by Jansen's vision and plans for transformation.

"However the minister wishes to express his strong disapproval and shock at the decision by the university to withdraw its complaint against the former students and intention to re-admit them."

Further divisions

This has caused further divisions and will open wounds which are "still very fresh".

The ministry also wanted clarity on talk of compensation for the workers, saying there had been no consultation on that either.

"The view of the department of higher education and training is that we cannot allow victims of racism to be unconditional unilateral forgivers."

They feared that Jansen had decided to absolve the students on behalf of the victims and compensate the victims on behalf of the students.

"This would constitute a superficial trade off which further impugns the dignity of the victims and is unfortunately an apology for the perpetrators of racism."

Didn't consult with workers

The university's spokesperson Lacea Loader said: "Professor Jansen is busy studying the statement and he is not going to give comment now."

However, she said in a later e-mail that with reference to whether Jansen consulted with the workers, he was advised by the university's legal team not to talk to the workers about his decision to pay reparations to them as it might jeopardise their case.

"He did, however, talk to their union representatives about the possibility of a settlement outside of court."