CAPE TOWN, South Africa – A video made by white students that humiliated black university employees has prompted angry protests and criticism that racism remains entrenched in South Africa 14 years after the end of apartheid.
The video, which was made last year and surfaced Tuesday, includes black cleaners taking part in a supposedly joke-filled mock "initiation ceremony" on their knees eating food that had been secretly urinated on by white students.
Authorities at the University of the Free State said Wednesday they are launching a criminal probe. Two of the students involved left the university last year and the other two have now been barred from campus.
The university suspended all classes to allow emotions to calm after a tense morning of protests during which police used a stun grenade to disperse stone-throwing students. Five students were arrested and later released.
The university in the city of Bloemfontein is regarded as a bastion for Afrikaaners, who are often most closely linked with white apartheid rule. University authorities have been trying to implement more racial integration at campus dorms — and it was defiance of this policy that apparently prompted the video.
Filmed last year by students from the Reitz men's residence, it depicts a mock initiation ceremony common to many universities around the world. However, the participants in the ceremony are middle aged black cleaners. They all evidently know and like the students and are on their knees laughing and trying to eat what looks like dog food mixed with garlic. Unknown to the cleaners, one of the students urinated on the food beforehand, according to the video footage.
The video, in Afrikaans, made sarcastic reference to the university's policy of integrating nonwhites.
The rector, Professor Frederick Fourie, condemned the video and the gross violation of human rights that it portrayed and promised to deal "swiftly and firmly" with the matter, a university spokesman said.
Fourie said he met the workers shown on the video and apologized to them face to face.
The South African Human Rights Commission said it was investigating complaints that the university actually condoned and allowed violations of human rights and tolerated racism.
Education minister Naledi Pandor also sent a top official to investigate the matter.
The premier of the Free State province, Beatrice Marshoff, told a protest march that racist acts at the institution, which had so far gone unreported and unchallenged, would no longer be tolerated.
The leader of the white-dominated Democratic Alliance party, Helen Zille, demanded that the human rights commission take action. The country's last white president, FW De Klerk, also condemned the video.
Multiracial elections in 1994 ended decades of white rule. But racial undercurrents remain strong even today and permeate almost every aspect of South African society.
There was an outcry last week when white journalists were ejected from a meeting of the Forum for Black Journalists addressed by African National Congress President Jacob Zuma. And tensions are high in the Northwest province where a young white man is on trial for killing four blacks, including a mother and her infant, in a shooting rampage. There have also been cases of white farmers accused of shooting blacks and then claiming they mistakenly thought the victim was an animal.
"This barbaric act does not only denigrate and dehumanize those workers, but is a tip of the iceberg of what workers experience daily at the hands of racists who can't differentiate between a dog, baboon and a human being," the ANC Youth League said.