The victim of an alleged racist attack at University of the Free State has lashed out at the university and its management, accusing them of being more concerned about the damage to its reputation than his impaired dignity and hurtful experience.
Damane Muzi Gwebu, a final-year student BCom Economics student, was treated for several injuries on Monday last week after he was run over with a bakkie by two students, Cobus Muller and Charl Blom, on campus in an alleged racism attack.
Witnesses of incident said that they heard both Muller and Blom yelling “k****r” and laughing after they ran him over on the pavement.
The 21-year-old student told the Saturday Star how, after the incident, he met the university’s rector Professor Jonathan Jansen, who expressed sympathy over the matter, but later advised him not to speak to the media about it.
“His (Jansen’s) first words were that of sympathy and that the university would do its outmost best to fight against such acts on campus,” Gwebu said.
“Before I left, he wanted to give me advice. He said it was fatherly advice. He asked me not to entertain the media. He then turned his words and said ‘this for your personal sake, this will help you’. He didn’t mention why and how it will help me,” said Gwebu.
The university has denied Gwebu’s claims, but Jansen said they had met twice and that Gwebu did not make any claims about downplaying his suffering. “We talked about what happened and how best to support him,” Jansen said.
The university said it viewed with “contempt” any suggestion that it was more concerned with image than the well-being of its students.
Gwebu said that during a meeting at Jansen’s office, the rector had asked him two questions: what would he would like the university to do about the situation, and what he would like the university to do for him. “I said I would like to see justice served and that the two students should get the harshest sentence, so a lesson should be sent to other racists out there,” Gwebu explained.
“I do not know what to think of the second question Professor Jansen posed to me, actually. He said he was giving me enough time to think about whatever I wished to have and I must come back the following morning to his office.”
Gwebu said he felt that Jansen wanted him “to mention any materialistic” needs and that then the matter would be dealt with internally.
Jansen wrote in a message to the students following the incident: “It is hoped that, in the course of time, they (Muller and Blom) will come to their senses and seek restoration and reconciliation with the student they so callously harmed.”
Gwebu took issue with this.
“This would be a great ceremony for him whereby he would be anointed as the real person who can facilitate reconciliation,” he said.
He also took exception to the university’s statement, which he said sought to downplay his injuries by describing them as “minor”. The university, however, said it had a medical opinion that Gwebu’s injuries were not major or life-threatening, which was why Gwebu was released soon after being treated.
“At his house, I brought a doctor to him for further examination, fetched some medication to ease some back pain and brought him food to make him as comfortable as possible,” Jansen said. “The doctor was pleased with his progress. Mr Gwebu reported this very positively in a local newspaper. So it is unclear what this is about.”
Gwebu is not the only person who is angry with the university for the latest race incident. The former Reitz hostel workers who were humiliated six years ago in a racist video have also weighed in.
They accused the university management of establishing a “watered down” version of their agreement on human rights that was meant to eradicate the culture of racism and intolerance.
“A desk for human rights is not enough to carry education programmes and outreach… Racism will continue to happen there,” said one of the former hostel cleaners, Emma Koko.
“What we had agreed was that after registration, every student must be compelled to undergo orientation in reconciliation, inclusivity and integration, which we were willing to take part in for free.”
Another worker, Rebecca Adams, said that they had been disappointed about how the university had “locked them out” on the important part of the 2011 publicised reconciliation with their tormentors.
“We were used to trigger the idea of creating the human rights centre, but now we are not even involved and nobody knows what work the office has done,” she said.
University spokeswoman Lacea Loader said that the human rights desk was more than what was agreed on and it was embedded in the Institute of Reconciliation and Social Justice both as vehicle to promote human rights and investigate their violations. She said it was difficult to monitor the behaviour of students on three campuses housing 30 000.
She said that the former Reitz workers met regularly with university management.
“Emphasis is on ensuring that their training and mentorship happen without distractions,” she said.