Pretoria - North West University (NWU) will introduce a compulsory human rights course for all students and has banned all initiation rituals at its campuses.
This follows findings from an independent task team set up by Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande to investigate transformation at the institution. The task team was set up to investigate the Nazi-style salute first-year students made during initiation in February at the Potchefstroom campus.
The task team was set up in March and given only a month to come up with a report. Amongst the task team members were SA Human Rights Commission member Leon Wessels, NWU human rights committee chairwoman Rehana Rawat and political analyst Somadoda Fikeni.
After handing over the report to Nzimande on Thursday, Itumeleng Pooe, deputy chairwoman of the NWU council, said the institution had decided to introduce a human rights course for all students, ban all initiation rituals and will form a student oversight committee to review the findings of the task team.
The oversight committee will be chaired by either Pooe or council chairman Peet van der Walt to review the task team’s recommendations, such as developing an appropriate reception and induction programme for all campuses.
Pooe said it was still not confirmed when the human rights course would be introduced.
She said the report would not be made public after the university was threatened with legal action by Afriforum Youth. The organisation threatened to take the NWU to the Equality Court because it had a problem with leaked parts of the report that said the problem was that there were “too many white Afrikaners at the institution”.
Higher Education Transformation Network said it would join the litigation as friends of the court.
“Council has on advice of senior counsel decided not to publish the report by the independent investigation task team in any manner whatsoever since it was a council-commissioned report,” Pooe said.
“The task team only had a month to do their job and there were too many public holidays so they were under pressure. This type of investigation requires time and consultation. Not all the stakeholders were interviewed.”
Pooe said among problems with the report was that it did not address some of the terms of reference and that some stakeholders took issue with the fact that the interviews with students were anonymous.
NWU vice-chancellor Professor Dan Kgwadi said the task team found that the Nazi-style hand signal was not linked to fascism nor Nazism. Instead, it was traditional.
“It is traditional in that it started at the university way back and we cannot say when it started. It is obviously linked to fascism and Nazism, but the students were not doing it with that intention. They perceived it as innocent. This (initiation) might be more commonplace than we know.
“When speaking to high school principals, I hear that this happens,” Kgwadi said.
“We apologise to students and parents for the trauma they are facing because of this. We want parents to know that they can send their children to our university.”
*AfriForum Youth has demanded access to the report. National chairman Henk Maree said they had instructed their legal team to request that the report be made available to them.
If this was declined, it would use the Promotion of Access to Information Act to get the document.