Cabinet expresses discontent over UFS decision

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pretoria - Cabinet has expressed strong displeasure with the decision to drop the internal charges instituted against four students at the University of the Free State (UFS) who humiliated workers there.

UFS Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jonathan Jansen, recently announced that the institution would withdraw its own complaint against the students and consider readmitting them to continue with their studies.

"The process that led to the dropping of the charges was flawed in that it did not follow the established norm of getting the perpetrators to admit guilt, to apologise to the victims before any charges could be dropped and to initiate a reconciliation process," government spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Thursday.

Briefing the media after an ordinary Cabinet meeting, Maseko said Cabinet would be the first among those who promote reconciliation in order to take the country forward. "However, reconciliation involves both parties moving towards one another and must include some indication of remorse on the part of the perpetrators."

Maseko said the manner in which this matter was handled suggests that the rights of the perpetrators have been given preference over the dignity and rights of the victims.

The meeting further supported Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande's call for the university to initiate an inclusive and consultative process to deal with the matter and to address racism at the institution.

Nzimande said the institution must convene an urgent meeting of all stakeholders in the university community to discuss the matter and to seek a common and better way forward.

"We call for the suspension of the decision to withdraw the complaint and readmit 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.

"Our call is informed by the fact that our Constitution and the values it embodies are above any individual institution and should be strictly adhered to and promoted," the minister said, on Wednesday.

He reiterated that the decision was grossly insensitive in that it failed to unite the university and the broader South African society in dealing with racism and other forms of discrimination.

The university made headlines when a racist video, which was initially aimed at protesting against the university's integration policy, surfaced earlier this year showing four students from the Reitz hostel degrading five cleaners.

The cleaners were allegedly forced to eat food laced in urine and participate in activities such as playing rugby.