Pretoria - The new Rector and Vice Chancellor of the University of Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen, has warned students who conduct initiation on first years that they will face criminal prosecution.
"As from next year, any senior student who lays his hand on a first year student will not only be brought before a disciplinary committee, but will face criminal prosecution in the courts under the charge of assault," Professor Jansen said.
He added that the practice of initiation was illegal and that the "mindless rituals that treat first-year students as children and seniors as parents" would be replaced by gradually building a new institutional and residential culture.
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.
While the men's residence was subsequently closed, Professor Jansen said it would be reopened as a transformed model of racial reconciliation and social justice for students.
He further announced that the university would withdraw its own charges against the four students implicated in the incident.
Professor Jansen, who was speaking during his inaugural lecture on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein on Friday, further announced changes to all residences.
The practice of consuming alcohol in residences will also come to an end with the start of the new academic year.
He noted that there were still damaging cultural legacies that lie deep within the institutional fabric of the university.
"There is the problem of small-mindedness among undergraduates who see the university as an uninterrupted extension of high school with authoritarian rituals learnt elsewhere.
"There is the problem of alcohol abuse in especially male residences, a practice that invariably spawns the racism and sexism that afflict fellow students. And, there is a problem of initiation in which seniors routinely humiliate first-year students inspired through a militarism that belongs in another time and place," Professor Jansen said.
He explained that these decisions were part of a plan to erode negative cultural practices through decisive action.
The residences are to be integrated on a 50/50 basis in January 2010, starting with the first-year students and the residence student leadership.
Neither black nor white will dominate until such time that social and physical integration happens as naturally as possible, he said.
He said the university has already started intensive training with the new student leadership of the Student Representative Council and the 23 residences.
"In 2010 we will take the first group of first-year students into a study-abroad programme and we will connect all new first-years to electronic networks that deepen and enrich their learning."