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'Urine stew' race furor students reinstated in South Africa

  • Story Highlights
  • Students face criminal and human rights charges over controversial incident
  • Black university workers were allegedly given urine-tainted stew
  • University withdraws complaints against students and invited them to return
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- A South African university has reinstated two white students expelled after allegedly serving black housekeepers urine-tainted stew in a video that sparked national outcry last year.

University students protest in February 2008 after the allegedly racist video came to light.

University students protest in February 2008 after the allegedly racist video came to light.

The university withdrew complaints against the students and invited them to resume their studies, said Jonathan Jansen, the first black vice chancellor at University of the Free State in Bloemfontein.

The students still face criminal and human rights charges, however, Jansen said in a statement this week. "The university has no say over those processes," he said.

Jansen cited reconciliation "on a deeply divided campus" as one reason for withdrawing the complaints.

It was not clear whether the students had accepted the offer to return to the university. Repeated calls to Jansen at the university failed to go through.

Roelof Malherbe and Schalk van der Merwe were banned from campus after a video emerged last year. It appeared to show them and two other former students mixing beef stew, urinating in it and serving it to housekeepers at their dorm.

It was shot in 2007 in reaction to university efforts to integrate its residences, school officials said. The campus was still divided into white and black dormitories almost two decades after the end of apartheid.

In a statement at the time, Malherbe and Van der Merwe apologized "for any embarrassment ... may have unintentionally caused" and denied that they were racists. They said they did not taint the food and that the video was edited to make it appear that they had.

"The totally harmless liquid was squirted from a bottle," they said.

South Africa's ministry of higher education decried Jansen's decision, and said the two men should apologize and address the allegations.

"One of the problems is that the men have not disclosed what happened," said Ranjeni Munusamy, a spokeswoman for the ministry. "They want to give people the impression that it was just a prank, without any form of remorse.

"Also, there was no consultation with the victims before this decision was made. There has been no apology. No financial reward can make up for the humiliation they suffered."

Munusamy said she did not know how the housekeepers would be compensated. She said the minister of higher education visited the campus about a month ago and was informed that "there was a process" under way in the case. The university did not offer details at the time, she said.

"During the visit, the victims told him that they want new uniforms because the old ones are a constant reminder," Munusamy said. "They told him they want to work in a different residence hall because they are still being taunted, they are still being humiliated."

An investigation mandated by the government last year painted "a shocking picture" of racism in higher education, Munusamy said. The ministry of higher education asked all university leaders to respond to the report, and educators will meet early next year to address the issues.

"We worry that if the students are allowed to return, the government will look like it is failing in the fight to address this problem," Munusamy said.

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