Africa

Ex-students admit humiliating South Africa workers

Johnny Roberts (L), Schalk van der Merwe (C) and RC Malherbe (R) (file photo)
Image caption The defence lawyers said they would never have made the video if they had known the consequences

Four white South Africans have been convicted of humiliating five black university domestic staff after a video of the incident was posted online.

The men, all students at the University of the Free State at the time, had been on trial but earlier pleaded guilty to crimen injuria.

The video showed the five staff being made to kneel and forced to eat food which had apparently been urinated on by one of the students.

The men will be sentenced on Wednesday.

The video of a mock initiation ceremony caused a national outcry and protests against racism when it surfaced in 2008.

The BBC's Karen Allen, in court in the predominantly white town of Bloemfontein, says the trial has been seen as deeply symbolic in a country trying to come to grips with its racially divided past, 16 years after the end of white minority rule.

Vomit-inducing

She says the long-awaited trial of the four former students - RC Malherbe, Johnny Roberts, Schalk van der Merwe and Danie Grobler - has attracted widespread media attention.

This is not least because defence lawyer Kemp J Kemp represented President Jacob Zuma in a rape case four years ago, our reporter says. Mr Zuma was acquitted.

In a statement read out by their lawyer, the men said that the video had been made to demonstrate the traditions of their hall of residence and to protest at plans to make the university more racially mixed.

They said the food had not been urinated on - that had been an illusion.

They also claim the staff had taken part willingly.

But the men agreed that they would never have performed their actions if they had known the consequences.

In the video, apparently filmed in 2007, the four women and a man were forced to drink full bottles of beer and perform athletic tasks.

But it is the final extract of the film that most angered members of the public.

It seems to show a white male urinating on food, and then shouting "Take! Take!" in Afrikaans and apparently forcing the campus employees to eat the dirty food, and causing them to vomit.

Last year, the first black director of the University of the Free State, Jonathan Jansen, courted controversy by inviting the students back as a gesture of reconciliation.

His decision was condemned by both the ruling African National Congress and opposition parties.

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