The brawl between spectators and protesters at the University of the Free State (UFS) Shimla Park rugby field on February 22 last year led to a year-long inquiry into racial relations at the university. A recently submitted inquiry report enforces recommendations that the university management must commit to in order to move forward with transformation.
The commission responsible for conducting the inquiry was spearheaded by former Constitutional Court Justice Johann van der Westhuizen. Van der Westhuizen and his team of three other law professionals spent a great deal of 2016 probing written submissions, audio-visual material, eye-witness accounts and conducting inspections in order to formulate recommendations for their report. The report was officially submitted to the Council of the University of the Free State on November 23 and presented before council on December 2.
The report recommends that all incidences of racism, whether overt or covert, intentional or unintentional, should be promptly dealt with by UFS. Furthermore it prescribes that “an on-going discourse on transformation and understanding between students and staff of different races and from different backgrounds is necessary to promote social cohesion. The use of hate speech, or inflammatory or hurtful language that borders on it should be avoided.”
The report also instructs UFS to strive for greater understanding among students from different racial groups. To highlight this, an excerpt from the report reads “For example, understanding by white students for the frustration and anger of black students as well as understanding by black students for the fear of white students.”
According to the chairperson of the UFS Council, Justice Ian van der Merwe, the council was satisfied with the outcome of the report. Members of the council believe that the report provided a clear indication of what happened immediately before, during and after the Shimla Park incident and why.
In a statement communicated by UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader, the UFS Management has been instructed to prepare a transformation plan in consultation with various stakeholders as well as the student representative council. “A comprehensive transformation plan should serve as a blueprint for further transformation of the UFS and eradication of racism.”
The council further resolved that a Transformation Committee to report directly on the progress of transformation ought to be established and the transformation plan be submitted to council early in 2017. The report has not yet been made available for public perusal and Management is reluctant to allow its release.
Fourth year Nursing student Aletta Steyn feels that the report was far too vague and that its findings did not present anything that the university community was not already aware of. “The way it is written does not even tell us anything substantial. It’s stuff that we knew already about this university. I don’t know how they are going to implement that report practically.” said Steyn.
Political sciences student, Bongani Mazula, is immensely dissatisfied with the report, “This report is nonsense! We want the full report.”
When #OutsourcingMustFall protesters walked onto the Shimla Park rugby field at the 17th minute of the Varsity cup match between the UFS and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the stadium erupted in outrage. Video footage capture spectators running onto the field to violently remove the protesters. This then sparked rampant altercations on the main campus between protesters and students from Huis Abraham Fischer and Huis Karee.
The SRC president at the time, Lindokuhle Ntuli, released the following statement later that evening, “Today we came to the sobering realization that the real battle here is Black Pain vs White Elitism… We [non-white students] survive the violence of subtle racism. We survive the hoax of being the ‘university healing South Africa’. We survive the pretense that we matter while they put in place policies and strategies to ensure our continued oppression…today the truth came out… it is apparent to us that the struggle of a black person is nothing to the white elite.”
This article first appeared in Irawa Post’s first-year edition. You can view the full edition here.