A two-year-old video widely seen as racist is sparking debate in Africa again after an academic called for the students involved to be allowed to resume their studies.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Free State Jonathan D Jansen, himself a black South African, made the speech two weeks ago. In the speech, Jansen brought up the infamous Reitz case, in which four white students were kicked out of school and faced criminal charges after making a video that apparently showed them urinating on food and then forcing black members of staff to eat the food.
The speech was widely reported, including in the South African paper The Star which ran the transcript of the speech. One part read:
...to dismiss the video as a product of four bad apples is too easy an explanation. This video-recording was preceded by a long series of racial incidents protesting racial integration especially in the residences of the university. Not all of these racially-charged incidents made the press; in fact, were it not for the public release of the video-recording, no-one outside the university would have known about it. And few outside the campus realise that what is now regarded as an offensive video-production in fact won an institutional award for its content.
After the speech, many outlets reported that the students were formally allowed to resume their studies. CNN reported that it was not known if the students had decided to return.
On Monday Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande demanded that Jansen make clear if he was reinstating the students or not, according to The Star.
Whilst the students may be allowed back to study, they are still facing potential criminal charges. However, the AFP reported Monday that the case will be delayed and will now not reach the courts until February 2010.
Christian Science Monitor wrote on the implications of Jansen's speech and highlighted how the incident has revealed divisions that many thought were past:
Many white South Africans welcomed Mr. Jansen's speech as a sign of reconciliation, in the mold of Nobel peace prize laureates President Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. Many blacks - and much of the leadership of the ruling African National Congress party - attacked the speech as naive and not tough enough on the racism that persists even 15 years after the fall of the white-dominated apartheid government. All of this raises troubling questions about how much has actually changed in racial attitudes in South Africa, and what it will take to bring both reconciliation and social change to segments of society that, seemingly, are not quite ready to change.