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S. Africa students sorry for racist video

  • Story Highlights
  • White students acted without malicious intent, statement says
  • Black housekeepers mocked, served stew purportedly containing urine
  • No urine in stew, students say, but video edited to make it seem so
  • Video apparently made in reaction to school integration plans
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Two of the four white students who were seen in a video allegedly mocking black housekeepers and serving them stew seemingly laced with urine have have apologized for their part in the stunt.

Students protest against a racist video on the campus of Free State University in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Attorney Nico Naude told CNN the men have been "described, depicted and crucified" in the media as racists.

The two, Roelof Malherbe and Schalk van der Merwe, said in the statement they are not racists and "most certainly had no intention of humiliating or degrading the employees concerned or black people in general or of detrimentally affecting their dignity."

The University of Free State Thursday identified Malherbe and Van der Merwe as two of the men in the video and said they are current students, according to a statement on the university Web site. Wednesday, the university said they had been banned from campus.

The university statement said the other two in the video are now-former students Danie Grobler and Johnny Roberts.

Naude said he is representing all four men, but no statements have been issued on behalf of Grobler and Roberts.

Malherbe and Van der Merwe said in their statement they had acted without malicious intent when they participated in making the video. They apologized "for any embarrassment which they may unintentionally have caused to any person or group of persons including parents," the statement said.

The video, which surfaced Tuesday, showed four white students putting five black female housekeepers at their university dormitory in Bloemfontein through a series of "competitions" in the style of the program "Fear Factor."

It sparked an immediate uproar on the campus and among human rights groups in South Africa.

The university denounced the video as a gross violation of human dignity and said Thursday it has officially reported the matter to the director of public prosecution, a statement on its Web site said.

The video, which a university statement said showed "black employees ... having to undergo a mock integration ceremony," was a reaction to the school's efforts to integrate its residences, school officials said. Eighteen years after the official end of apartheid, they were still separated into white and black dormitories.

"Once upon a time the Boers [Afrikaans-speaking white farmers] lived happily here on Reitz island until the day the less-advantaged discovered the word 'integration' in the dictionary," one of the students says on the video. It is not clear which of the four students named by the university made that comment.

One of the scenes shows the women drinking stew that in a previous scene appeared to have been laced with urine.

Naude said the students did not urinate in the food served to the housekeepers, but the video was edited to make it appear they had done so.

In the statement from the two students Thursday, the men insisted there was no urine in the food.

"Although, as was intended at the time, it appears to viewers as if one of the persons urinated in the traditional brew which was prepared, it most certainly did not take place and a close study of the particular insert will confirm that the -- totally harmless -- liquid was squirted from a bottle," the statement read.

The men said the video, which was taped in September, was a "satirical slant on a topic which was then prevalent and controversial."

They also said the employees who participated in the video did so voluntarily, "knew the purpose for which it was made" and "as is evident ... clearly enjoyed it."

The women were also informed the food was not contaminated, they said.

An attorney representing the employees shown in the video told reporters Thursday his clients were tricked into participating. He said the cleaning staff is pursuing a civil and criminal case not only against the four but also against the university.

Malherbe and Van der Merwe said they had no intention of humiliating the black employees and were in fact friends with the employees until the video became public, their statement said.

Earlier, Naude said his clients had "not done anything criminal."

But the National Prosecuting Authority said it is considering charging the men with assault and crimen injuria -- a count specific to South Africa in which someone deliberately injures another person's dignity with racial slurs or obscenities.

In the homemade video, four white students at the Reitz Residence hostel are seen encouraging five black female housekeepers to participate in what the students call the "Reitz Fear Factor," an apparent reference to a television show in which contestants eat live worms or compete in other feats.

In one scene, a student mixes what looks like a beef stew in a plastic bowl and adds garlic and other items. Then he tells the camera he will add the "special ingredient."

The student then appears to urinate into the mixture, which he later stirs and puts in a microwave. Other students can be heard laughing on the tape.

The next scene shows a different student urging at least three housekeepers to drink cups of the stew, saying, "This is our dorm's 'Fear Factor.' We want to see who has the best 'Fear Factor.' "

On the video, the student does not say anything about urine in the mixture.

The women, on their knees, spit the stew into buckets after tasting it. Some appeared to vomit, but the women also laughed during the incident, as the student urged them on.

Next, the women struggle to run in what appears to be a race. The video is put in slow-motion as the theme from "Chariots of Fire" plays.

The women also are seen playing rugby with the men, which is a sport usually associated with the white Afrikaans-speaking community.

Throughout the tape, the women can be heard calling the white students "baas," meaning boss or master, which was a term blacks were forced to use during apartheid when addressing whites.

Finally, one of the students awards a large bottle of whiskey to one of the women, telling her she has won the "Fear Factor."

At the end of the video, a message appears on the screen in Afrikaans saying, "That, at the end of the day, is what we think of integration."

Naude said the video that surfaced Tuesday is actually made of outtakes of a montage that won a contest at the dorm last year.

A spokesman for the university said Thursday it was not a school-sanctioned event but appeared to be a contest organized by the students in the Reitz Residence in which different sections of the dorm competed against each other to make a video.

The South African newspaper The Times reported Thursday that the outtakes had been stored on the computer of one student, whose girlfriend released them to the media when they broke up.

UFS Rector Frederick Fourie met with the women in the video Wednesday and apologized to them, a statement from the university said. Counseling is being provided for the workers, it added.

The ruling ANC said Thursday the video is reminiscent of the most perverse forms of racism that were committed against South Africa's black majority during apartheid and it is also urging that strong action be taken against those responsible.

Protests broke out on campus Wednesday over the content of the video, and five people were arrested, authorities said.

Demonstrators, both black and white, marched to Reitz Residence and demanded it be shut down.

This is one of several racial incidents that have recently plagued South Africa. Last month, an 18-year-old white man allegedly fired on a black informal settlement, killing four black people and wounding six.

Last week, an organization that calls itself the Forum of Black Journalists kicked white reporters out of a lunch meeting with the president of the country's ruling party, Jacob Zuma, saying the event was reserved for non-whites. CNN's Nkepile Mabuse attended the meeting.

Dr. Zonke Majodina, deputy chairwoman of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), said the country has been in denial and it will take years before racist mindsets are altered.

"We've taken for granted that just scrapping the old apartheid laws is going to make things work better in our vision for a nonracial South Africa, but in fact it's not going to happen overnight," Majodina said.

But in The Times, SAHRC chairman Jody Kollapen blamed the racial tensions that led to such violations on the Nelson Mandela era, saying the internationally celebrated freedom fighter reached too far when he was president, putting undue focus on reconciliation instead of transformation. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN correspondent Nkepile Mabuse contributed to this report.

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