Victims of the humiliating 2007 Reitz video shake hands with the four former students who filmed it during a reconciliation ceremony at the University of the Free State campus. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

The five University of the Free State workers humiliated in a racist video by former Reitz hostel students will not return to the campus as cleaners, but as human rights activists.

This is part of the settlement that preceded Friday night’s reconciliation ceremony at the university where the four former students publicly apologised to the workers for the first time.

The settlement also includes a compensation believed to be worth R1 million for each worker.

According to the deal, the university will help the five workers launch their new careers as faces of human rights on campus.

The university will further set up a trust fund for them which will be linked to their work at a centre for human rights that will be established. The centre will be used for research purposes by students enrolled for law on human rights violations as part of their course.

Mothibedi Molete, Mankoe Phororo, Emmah Koko, Nkgapeng Adams and Sebuasengwe Ntlatseng reconciled with and forgave their tormentors Roelof Malherbe, Schalk van der Merwe, Johnny Roberts and Danie Grobler at a ceremony held at the university on Friday night.

This came after the university and lawyers representing both parties agreed to settle an Equality Court action brought against the former students. Friday’s event has been described by the university and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) as “a historic gesture of social cohesion and nation building”.

“The workers are now in control of their lives,” said the SAHRC’s Mothusi Lepheana.

“They have programmes that they are working on at the moment to launch their careers as the faces of human rights.”

Lepheana said through this, the SAHRC believed the university would be involved in the advancement of human rights in the communities it served.

“The workers are now far beyond being referred to as cleaners and we are now looking at empowering them beyond that,” he said.

“It is part of the agreement to make sure that the workers and the former students achieve all the things they have set for themselves to contributing to nation building.”

However, the ceremony, in which the former students and the workers were shown eating together on video, made to read prepared statements and the media were barred from interviewing them, has had its critics. The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union branch at the university boycotted the event claiming it would not advance transformation.

The union said the function amounted to a third round of humiliation for the workers who had been kept away from campus since the racist video.

The ANC Youth league branch at the university described the event as a “publicity stunt”.

The league’s branch secretary, Sandile Fuku, said despite the good intentions of trying to reconcile the workers and the former students, those affected did not enter into dialogue as equals.

“It was a superficial reconciliation ceremony,” he said.

“It was theatrical and it had nothing to do with addressing the broader problem of racism but to project a situation that doesn’t exist.”

Lepheana admitted that the event was “a little bit of choreography and fanfare”.

“How else would you make people who have been humiliated and felt they were nothing to start feeling they are important?” he asked. “They now feel they are heroes. They are thinking far beyond the box of being victims. Therefore if it had to come through much fanfare and stage performance to reach that then it had to.”

“These people felt they were nothing not long ago. They were fragile and vulnerable, but now all the other fragile people can look up to them for hope,” he added. - Pretoria News