The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has singled out university initiation as an “inhuman punishment”.
“It’s been a finding by the Commission in the past, that there is a difference. Orientation teaches facts of life. But initiation is an inhuman punishment,” SAHRC chairperson Lawrence Mushwana said on Thursday.
The SAHRC is currently holding a national hearing on racism and transformation at South African universities.
Speaking at a media briefing in Braamfontein, Mushwana said the hearing has been a long time coming.
“There are issues at a number of institutions. In 2001, a student actually died at Stellenbosch University and then-Minister of Education Kader Asmal asked us to look into the incident and give a report. In 2008, after the Reitz 4 case at the University of the Free State, the minister of education at the time, Naledi Pandor, constituted a committee to look into those issues,” he said.
“But despite all of these committees, such incidents continue to happen. And that’s why we’ve convened this hearing, involving stakeholders and people involved such as vice-chancellors, to see what we do moving forward.”
The infamous Reitz 4 incident at the University of the Free State (UFS) saw students filming a humiliating “orientation” featuring cleaners at the university who were made to eat a concoction of food that appeared to have been urinated into.
Commissioner Lidiwe Mokate, who is responsible for basic education and child rights at SAHRC, said it is mostly black students who have been victims of discrimination during orientation and initiation programmes.
North West University student Thabang Mokhoang died in 2012 during an orientation at the university. He was unable to swim and drowned in a swimming pool on campus. In February, a UFS student, Muzi Gwebu, was allegedly run over by two other students at the university in what has been described as a “racist attack”.
“The increase in the use of the k-word indicates the kind of value system that exists within the campus, where there is not sufficient respect for fellow students.”
More than 560 cases related to racism were reported to the SAHRC from last year until March this year.
“If there are issues of racism and discrimination 20 years into democracy, it’s important that they are looked at,” Mokate said.