More than two years after the initial uproar, a South African Court has finally convicted the ‘Reitz 4’ of crimen injuria and fined them R20,000 (about $2775) for their crimes.
For those not familiar with the case, the Reitz 4 (so named after the the University of the Free State residence in which they stayed) rose to infamy after filming a video to protest against the forced integration of their ‘white’ residence with black students. The video featured 5 black cleaners ‘being integrated’ into the Reitz residence by being forced to perform humiliating acts of initiation. Among others, this included being forced to eat food laced with urine (although the four accused say they only pretended to urinate in the food) and crawl around on their hands and knees while ‘competing’ with each other in various events. Upon release of the video, uproar followed with protests and riots throughout South Africa, an ugly reminder of the racial tension still common in South Africa so long after the end of Apartheid. The sentencing of the Reitz 4 is supposed to have brought a close to this uncomfortable chapter and many have praised the Court for its strong (if slow) reaction to the issue.
Unfortunately, while the media and politicians have largely supported the decision, many South Africans do not feel the same. In a poll conducted on the mainly white-read News24.com, one of the most popular news sites in South Africa, an overwhelming 41% of respondants answered that the sentence was unfair because “the cleaners were willing participants”, contrasted with only 14% who thought the punishment was “nothing compared to the cleaners’ humiliation”.
Sadly, it seems that even though the South African judicial process has progressed, there is a still a long way to go in the hearts and minds of many South Africans when it comes to truly eliminating racism.