NO MORE: Hundreds of students, workers and personnel at the University of the Free State participate in a protest in Bloemfontein against a racial video made by students last year. Picture: ANDRE GROBLER

WHILE aimed at promoting reconciliation, the withdrawal of criminal charges by the University of the Free State (UFS) against four former UFS students who were allegedly involved in a racist incident could backfire, the African National Congress (ANC) said yesterday.

UFS vice-chancellor Prof Jonathan Jansen announced the move at his inauguration on Friday. He also announced that UFS would pay "reparations" to the five black cleaning staff humiliated by the white students in a crass statement against the racial integration of the university's 23 residences.

"We agree with (Jansen's) transformative programme of creating a nonracial, nonsexist and democratic institution. The ANC is, however, concerned about the dropping of charges . Contrary to (Jansen's) claim . that such dropping of charges will lead to reconciliation in the university, our view is that such act will not lead to reconciliation but will again harden racial attitudes not only in the university but in the country broadly," ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.

The four men allegedly responsible for the incident, in which the cleaners were forced to drink a liquid resembling urine, face charges of crimen injuria in the Bloemfontein Regional Court.

UFS students' representative council president Moses Masitha said he would not be commenting on Jansen's statement until this week as he needed more time to think.

Jansen's list of commitments, including a 50% black-white integration of all first-year residences and the filling of 25 senior university positions, were "visionary" but would require a budget and a funding drive, said Democratic Alliance higher education spokesman Wilmot James.

There was no question that to make Jansen's experiment work at UFS, he would need considerable financial support, James said.

University of Cape Town deputy vice-chancellor Prof Crain Soudien said Jansen's plan was "a moment of public education" that he would have to carefully explain to the public, and especially to UFS's black students.

Soudien, who led a six-month ministerial committee investigation into racism and discrimination in South African higher education last year, said: "The major issue in SA now is what 'transformation' means, and it is not simply a clearing of the decks, although that is obviously his (Jansen's) first step." Jansen, having won the confidence of young white students at UFS, now needed to win the trust of black students, he said.

blaines@bdfm.co.za