Students' abuse of black cleaners stuns South Africa

Protests erupted at a South African university after a video emerged of white students racially humiliating five elderly black cleaners.

Police used tear gas to disperse crowds at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein yesterday as detectives began investigating the footage.

In the video, four students from a white-only, male hostel on campus are heard referring to the old Afrikaner way of life before the cleaners are made to drink bottles of beer, run races, play rugby and then kneel and eat meat that had been urinated upon.

Classes have been cancelled and last night the university's rector and vice-chancellor Frederick Fourie was trying to calm the situation. He said the video was made last September, and two of the students had since left. The remaining two had been barred from the university as internal and police investigations began.

"I am deeply saddened that students apparently see nothing wrong in producing such an offensive and degrading video," he said. "I have publicly said several times that [this university] is not a place for racism. It's a gross violation of the human dignity of the workers involved."

The video was shot after the university announced a *ew integration policy on accommodation for its 18,500 students, ending the practice of black and white students living in separate digs. The footage was filmed in a male-only accommodation block called Reitz.

A narrator on the video says: "Once upon a time the "Boer" lived peacefully here on Reitz Island until one day when the less-advantaged discovered the word 'integration' in the dictionary."

The amateur footage shows garlic being put into a dish full of meat which looks like dog food. The narrator is heard saying: "We know they're less privileged so we're adding a bit of meat." Another student then puts the bowl on the toilet and urinates into the mixture. The concoction is then handed out in plastic glasses to the cleaners.

All five – four women and a man – spit out the first mouthful, but try to finish it amid loud encouragement from the students. The narrator says: "That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration."

The footage then shows one of the students asking a cleaner: "What does 'sefebe' mean in Afrikaans?" She replies: "A black whore."

The scandal is the latest in a series of race-related issues that have made recent headlines. Last week, the ANC leader and would-be president Jacob Zuma caused outrage when white reporters were excluded from an address to the Forum of Black Journalists.

White South Africans are also angry about an oath planned for schools which some claim will make their children feel "morally inferior" with its references to apartheid.

The video was condemned across the political and racial spectrum last night. The South African Students Congress said: "The barbaric behaviour of the Afrikaaner students in that university still resembles the old apartheid order."

Jody Kollapen, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, said those responsible should be arrested and prosecuted. "It is so unconscionable that we should not be willing to discuss or negotiate it."

Liana Van Wyk, a spokeswoman for the opposition Democratic Alliance, said: "It was quite humiliating at the end to see the quite senior ladies on their knees eating the meat."