Racism remains part of “everyday life” in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Monday, after a scandal erupted over a viral video showing the humiliation of black students.
“Racism is still a feature of everyday life in South Africa,” Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly letter.
He said the nation was “outraged at the sight of a white student at the University of Stellenbosch degrading and humiliating a fellow black student in a despicable act.”
The shows a first-year white student urinating on the books and laptop belonging to a black colleague in the early hours of Sunday, May 15.
A voice off-camera asks “Why are you peeing in my room?” The white student replies flatly, “I’m waiting for someone.”
The South African Students’ Congress said white students later said: “that it is what they do to black boys.”
“We need to understand what is causing racist attitudes to flourish in our schools and places of higher learning,” Ramaphosa said.
“We need to understand what kind of institutional cultures contribute to racism in the workplace, in social organisations, and in communities.”
The incident sparked a week of protests at Stellenbosch, a mostly white school in a mostly black country.
Ramaphosa quoted a fourth-year student, Kwenzokuhle Khumalo, who told one of the protests last week that: “You’ve met the wrong generation this time.”
The university has opened disciplinary proceedings amid calls for the student’s expulsion for what it condemned as a “destructive, hurtful and racist incident”.
Justice minister Ronald Lamola on Monday denounced the incident as “akin to urinating on the Constitution itself”.
“It is done in the year that we are celebrating the 25th year of the Constitution. This type of barbaric incident must be condemned and dealt with accordingly.”
South Africa’s constitution cemented the transition away from white supremacist rule and is often held up as a model of democratic values — even if implementing those values remains a work in progress.