Initiation ritual to be scrutinised

March 30, 2001

South Africa's Human Rights Commission is to investigate initiation rites after a student at the University of Stellenbosch was knocked down and killed while walking along a highway with a group of fellow students late at night.

The companions of Charl Strydom, 19, said that the accident occurred during an old ritual of the Huis Visser residence in which students walk in their underwear along the same route each year.

Students have claimed in the local press that initiation ceremonies - some involving violent attacks - are common on campus.

The university fired the head of the residence, launched an internal inquiry and said that it prohibited any practice that breached the constitution and the rights of the individual.

Spokesman Hans-Peter Bakker said the fact that students were walking around late at night was reason enough to investigate the matter. He added that the institution had largely managed to put an end to initiation practices involving first-year students.

But such assurances were not enough for education minister Kader Asmal, who announced that the Strydom incident was being referred to the Human Rights Commission.

He said he had been considering acting against initiation ceremonies for some time and had decided to do so after receiving a letter signed by the former editors of the Stellenbosch University student journal, Die Matie , urging him to do so.

Christopher Cameron, of the South African Liberal Students Association, told the Cape Times that Mr Strydom's death was not the first to occur during initiation rites.

He said: "Every year we get reports of students with broken legs and arms as a result of accidents, but it is sometimes the emotional damage done to students which is the worst."

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