South African University Erupts In Protest Over Racist Video

Two of the students behind video apologize in statement.

Students at a South African university staged protests this week after their campus was rocked by a video that depicted black university workers being tricked by white students into eating stew with urine in it.

The video — created in September 2007 by four white students in response to the University of the Free State's policy to integrate campus housing — sparked a rally on Wednesday in which approximately 600 black students marched on the university's management offices to deliver a memorandum demanding that officials expel the students in the video and ban them from attending all other universities in South Africa.

"I know that emotions are running very high," Free State Premier Beatrice Marshoff shouted into a megaphone to the crowd. "We are all very, very upset by what we have seen on those videos."

Although the university said in a statement the demonstration was a "peaceful protest," it did admit there were "sporadic instances of intimidation," property damage and five arrests.

Two of the white students behind the video apologized in a statement issued by their lawyer Thursday (the two other individuals involved in the video are no longer students at the university). The students, Roelof Malherbe and Schalk van der Merwe, said in the statement that they regretted making the film, which they said was intended as a "satirical slant" on the issue of racial integration at the university dormitories.

"If you see the video in context you'll see it's been ripped out of proportion," the lawyer, Nico Naude, told MTV News. Naude — who noted that the workers involved in the video were friends of the four men — said in the statement, "[Malherbe and Van der Merwe] claim they acted without any malicious intent, but apologize for any embarrassment they may, unintentionally, have caused." The two are "not racists and, most certainly, had no intention of humiliating or degrading the employees concerned or black people in general or of detrimentally affecting their dignity," the statement continued.

Tensions have simmered down on campus since Wednesday while students await a response from the university. If the response is not favorable another rally will take place, student and protest organizer Lonwabo MacFarlane, 20, told MTV News. "We felt humiliated," he said. "Those ladies in that video could've been our grandmothers, or our mothers for that matter."

The women in the video are also speaking out. "We feel pain," 40-year-old Emma Koko told the crowd at a press conference on Thursday, according to the AP. "It's something we were not expecting. We regard [the students] as our children."

In the video, the workers seem comfortable in the company of the students and are in high spirits throughout the "competition." A blond male, speaking in Afrikaans, even refers to the activities as "Reitz Fear Factor." Reitz is the name of the men's residence hall where two of the students lived.

The video opens in a dorm-room-type setting where one of the students appears to urinate into a beef stew mixture and puts it into a microwave. (The students said in the statement that a "harmless" liquid was used.) Later in the clip, three female residence workers and one male worker are seen on their knees drinking the stew from plastic cups, and then vomiting into buckets. The prize is a bottle of whiskey which one of the women gladly accepts as her friends cheer her on. The video ends with the words (in Afrikaans), "This is what integration looks like," superimposed against an image of one of the black women doing dishes.

The university "has condemned the video and gross violation of human rights that it portrays," Vice-Chancellor Frederick Fourie said in a press release. Classes were also canceled Wednesday "in a proactive step to allow the emotions of staff and students to calm down," he added.

According to the statement, the university also plans to press criminal charges against Malherbe, van der Merwe and former students Danie Grobler and Johnny Roberts. Malherbe and Van der Merwe will also be suspended.

Although apartheid in South Africa officially ended in 1994, Vice-Chancellor Fourie admitted that "the university is going through a difficult time with its efforts to racially integrate its residences and to create a new residence culture based on diversity, respect, human dignity and human rights."

The South African Human Rights Commission also issued a statement claiming the University has a "whites only" history. It also makes note of discriminatory events that have taken place at the school, such as a racist advertisement that was once posted on the school's Web site and a claim that new students are forced to visit all churches, regardless of their faith.

The University of the Free State is located in the city of Bloemfontein and is regarded as a bastion for Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch settlers who are often most closely linked with apartheid rule, according to AP.

On Friday (February 29), the South African magazine Drum reported that one of its black journalists covering the video story had been assaulted in what was apparently a racial attack at a restaurant in Bloemfontein. His attacker was a "burly white man" who followed him to the bathroom, where he assaulted him using racial slurs, the magazine reported in a statement.

Protest organizer Macfarlane said that although a majority of the students at the university are black, the racial climate at the school is "Afrikanerdom."

"We want no dominance of one culture over another," he said. "We just want equality."