Racism plagues UFS

Despite the appointment of its first black vice chancellor, the University of the Free State (UFS) still gets slammed with allegations of racism.

In 2009 when Professor Jonathan Jansen was appointed as the first black vice chancellor of UFS, hopes were high that this could be the change the university needed to fight back against racist claims. All facts point to Jansen having made in-roads, despite the slamming he is now receiving from the student movement.

Luzuko Buku, representative of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) said: “What Jansen has done since his arrival in the University of Free State is not to transform the university from its notorious racist conditions on black students but he has been working very hard to protect and cover up racism by sweeping such cases under the carpet.”

Covering up 

Last week it was alleged that two white UFS students, Kobus Muller and Charl Blom, tried to drive over a group of black pedestrians, side-swiping Dumane “Muzi” Gwedu, a fifth year BCom student. Gwedu then followed the car until it came to a stop where he approached the two drivers. This resulted in a violent attack on Gwedu.

News24 article reported that Jansen had doubts about whether the incident was indeed racist, even though the accused called the victims “kaffirs” and then drove off.

During his inaugural speech in 2009, Jansen chose to forgive four white UFS students who, in 2008, filmed a video humiliating and degrading black campus workers. In his speech, Jansen dropped the case against these students and said, “They are my students. I cannot deny them any more than I can deny my own children.”

The move was controversial with some terming it a brave gesture of reconciliation and others warning it sent the wrong message to racists. Since the incident, Jansen has been blamed for adopting too reconciliatory an approach.

Racist reports 

Other incidents of alleged racism at UFS were reported in 2010 when a female student, Pinky Mokemane, was dragged next to a car driven by two white UFS students.

In January 2014, an advertisement appeared in a Bloemfontein newspaper, advertising student accommodation for a “non-affirmative action” female. The VC reacted by distancing himself and the university from the advert, which shows embedded racial profiling within the UFS community. He said:  “The varsity does not oversee private accommodation and it makes it difficult to regulate the ridiculous requirements they have of some students.”

Another ongoing example of racial profiling at UFS is their residence segregation. It appears that there are still many residences which give white students preference. With only 20% of UFS students being accommodated at the institution’s residences it is hard enough finding a spot if you’re white, let alone black.

UFS has its form of a transformation office too, the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, an institute made for research and discussion among specialists, international students and politicians.

The general student body apparently can go to the Human Rights desk. This desk was not available for three days. The co-ordinator, Breggie Hofman Wits Vuvuzela was informed, was out of town and the second in charge “had a crisis”. Students will just have to save those reports of racism for later.

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