UFS to face fresh civil action

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SUNDAY INDEPENDENT

Damane Muzi Gwebu, a fifth-year student at the University of the Free State, stands outside the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice. Gwebu says he was attacked by two white students, resulting in him needing stitches to his face. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Bloemfontein - The University of the Free State is set to face a fresh civil claim for human rights violations following an alleged racist attack on its campus on Monday, February 17.

Damane Muzi Gwebu, a fifth-year student in Economics, was run over by a bakkie and assaulted by two fellow students, Cobus Muller and Charl Blom, on the night of February 17.

Gwebu has said he has consulted with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to pursue a civil case against the university and possibly lodge another case against Muller and Blom for unfair discrimination on the grounds they used the k-word against him.

In addition, the commission will argue that they violated section 10 of the Equality Act which prohibits the propagating, advocating and communicating of words that are based on race and could be reasonably construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be hurtful and harmful to the complainant and all black people.

Muller and Blom are already facing criminal charges for attempted murder, assault, reckless and negligent driving related to the attack, and will appear in court again on April 9.

Gwebu told The Sunday Independent this week that lawyers from the commission had told him there was merit to his case after the precedent set by previous racist attack cases involving the university.

In 2011, the SAHRC sought redress at the Equality Court on behalf of the four black female university workers who were humiliated when four white male students recorded and disseminated a video of them in the case known as the Reitz Four. The case was settled out of court, with the perpetrators paying punitive damages to each of the victims and the university implementing remedial measures.

“I believe that no one is born racist,” Gwebu said. “A message must be sent through these culprits that racism has no place in this country. I hope through the hands of the law that the racism which is prevalent in open spaces of the university can be rooted out.”

UFS spokeswoman Lacea Loader said the SAHRC had indicated to the university in a letter that it would be investigating a case of human rights violations.

“We offered our full support to the investigation,” she said.

The university, according to Loader, has made significant progress since the 2008 Reitz incident .

“This is not a regular occurrence, and we are all stunned and disappointed by the event. It would be very sad if the enormous hard work of students and staff to create a better campus is overlooked because of this tragic incident.”

On the day he was attacked, Gwebu claimed that a security guard stood a few metres from where the assault took place but failed to come to his aid. This has led to students requesting university management to investigate the claims and take the necessary steps to deal with the security problem.

But Loader said although security guards were in the vicinity when Gwebu was attacked, to say they were no more than a few metres away was speculation.

“What we do know is that the assault happened very quickly and was over before the guard could even get to the site of the attack,” she said.

“In the meantime we appeal to journalists to await the full report from SAPS and the independent investigator.”

UFS student representative council president, Phiwe Mathe, said the fact that the suspects were fourth-year students meant that transformation at the university had not been deep enough.

“There is reluctance in taking radical steps to deal with this thing in this university,” he said. “We still find it hard to get white and black students to live together in residences. There are still residences that show pockets of resistance where black students are not treated the same as white students.”

Sunday Independent


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