Poppy Louw, Graeme Hosken and Nashira Davids
In an apparent racist attack, two white students at the University of the Free State allegedly drove deliberately over a black student and repeatedly beat him when he confronted them.
The attack mirrors an assault at the university in 2010 and has brought back memories of the 2008 incident at its Reitz residence in which students urinated on food and forced cleaning staff to eat it.
On Monday evening, fifth-year economics student Dumane “Muzi” Gwebu was admitted to hospital after two students attacked him as he made his way home through the university’s main campus.
The assailants allegedly tried to drive over three black women students before they hit Gwebu with their bakkie as he walked on a pavement. He later confronted them at a nearby residence and was beaten.
According to the Free State chairman of the South African Students’ Congress, Ntakuseni Razwiedani, Gwebu said one assailant had held him from behind while the other had repeatedly punched him.
In the 2010 attack, Pinky Mokemane was dragged alongside a car by two students while waiting on the campus for her sister.
University of Free State rector Jonathan Jansen condemned the most recent attack.
“It is sad and disappointing that, after so much progress with the social transformation of the university, such a horrific incident could have occurred.
“If found guilty in the criminal and institutional investigations, the students will not be allowed to study at the university,” he said.
Jansen questioned whether the attack was, in fact, racially motivated, but said the university was investigating.
But angry students said the attack came as no surprise.
“It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. For the past two weeks, stories of so-called isolated incidents of racism have been surfacing. They have all been swept under the carpet by management,” said a law student who declined to be named.
“It is clear the vision they [management] have been trying to strangle us with since Reitz is not working. Their reaction to this case is not making things any easier.”
The student said that in the past two weeks four white students, labelled as bullies, had been evicted from Armentum residence for intimidating black students.
Sasco’s Razwiedani said Gwebu had told him his attackers had come onto campus looking for trouble.
“The guys [suspects] drove onto campus with a mission. Three female students have come forward, reporting that the same vehicle tried swerving into them before they hit Gwebu. They called them kaffirs and drove off.”
The president of the students’ representative council, Phiwe Mathe, called for urgent improvements to campus security and an urgent investigation into the attack. “Our campus can no longer remain a space where our students are not free from danger.”
The SRC demanded action within 14 days.
Said Jansen: “The university’s senior leadership is outraged at this blatant act of violence. We worked with police to identify and locate the perpetrators, whose vehicle was fitted with false number plates. They were traced this morning. They were arrested for attempted murder and assault.”
Police spokesman Captain Chaka Marope said the suspects would appear in court today.
“More charges could be added at a later stage.”
Also on Monday, a Muslim scholar-teacher was kidnapped and violently attacked in Cape Town by white men who called him “al-Qaeda”. Three white men pulled the 20-year-old Muslim scholar into a van as he left a Lotus River mosque and assaulted him.
The attack has prompted the Lotus River Islamic Educational Society to urge its scholars and teachers to be on the alert.
Its executive committee said: “We implore all our parents to make proper transport arrangements to and from all our various Islamic learning centres. We call on our community to be vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour.”
Binyameen Ismail, chairman of the society, said the men had flung “religious and racial slurs” at the scholar-teacher, who was wearing Islamic attire, including a turban.
When he had ignored them, they had thrown a glass bottle at him. One man had jumped out of the van and started assaulting him.
Trying to defend himself he noticed one of the men was armed, and he was forced into the vehicle. They continued to beat him in the ribs, face and stomach, Ismail said.