Nzimande awaits Reitz response

Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande is demanding that University of the Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen give him a straight answer about whether he will reverse his decision to let the "Reitz four" off the hook.

Hours before the four students, accused of humiliating black staff members in an alleged racist mock-initiation video, were due to appear in court, Jansen's office announced that it would re-open "consultations and discussions" about his decision to drop the university's disciplinary action against the men.

The statement read: "In the light of the criticism of decisions related to the Reitz matter, the management of the University of the Free State has decided to re-open consultations and discussions with all stakeholders concerned, in order to deliberate on a way forward for the institution, and especially for the staff and students concerned."

Yesterday's press release followed an earlier media statement from Nzimande, in which the minister condemned Jansen's announcement that the University of the Free State would drop its complaints against the four students, allowing them to return to the campus.

The minister urged Jansen to suspend his decision and to "convene an urgent meeting of all stakeholders in the university community to discuss this matter, and to seek a common and better way forward".

Asked by The Star whether the planned consultation might result in a reversal of the decision, Jansen responded: "The goal of opening dialogue and discussion is to chart a way forward in the best interests of the country."

Jansen has not indicated whether he will suspend his decision pending the consultation process, which individuals and organisations inside and outside the university have been invited to attend.

Nzimande's spokeswoman, Ranjeni Munusamy, yesterday admitted that the minister was "in the dark" about whether Jansen would suspend his Reitz decision.

"We cautiously welcome the reopening of consultations on this issue... but we still want a report from the university about the status of the earlier decision (to drop its complaint against the Reitz four)," she said.

Munusamy added that Nzimande was very concerned that the university's failure to deal decisively with the furore created by Jansen's decision could result in disruption to the institution's exam schedule.

Political organisations were expected to protest this morning.

The Reitz four - RC Malherbe, Johnny Roberts, Schalk van der Merwe and Danie Grobler - are due to appear in court in Bloemfontein on charges of crimen injuria.

The State has indicated that it will seek the postponement of the case, which the men's lawyers are seeking to have dropped.

Buti Manamela, the national secretary of the Young Communists League, has said the organisation's members would render the university "ungovernable", while the ANC in the province said it would picket at the court.

The Progressive Youth Alliance has also indicated that its members would protest against Jansen's decision.

A spokeswoman for the university, Lacea Loader, yesterday said the university was "aware of and prepared for" protest action.

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