CAPE TOWN, May 6 (JTA) — Jewish, gay and black students reportedly have been beaten up by right-wing vigilante groups at a South African university. Stellenbosch University, in the Western Cape region, was a stronghold of the country’s white Afrikaans community during the apartheid era, but since the transition to democracy has opened its doors to all. The national Sunday Times reported that students have been beaten up for not conforming to “the culture” of the university’s residences, and that the Jewish students’ union had been forced to close its doors to avoid attacks inside the residences after members refused to openly declare their religion. Yvonne Malan, former chairwoman of the Union of Jewish Students, reportedly had her hostel door kicked in and received hate mail after refusing to attend a Christian prayer meeting. She was a resident of the Harmonie Hostel at the time of the incident. Malan claims she was ordered to “convert or resign” from the Students’ Representative Council, which she sat on last year. “The students at the hostels are afraid to say they are Jewish. They would rather lie low and attend” the student church, she told the paper. The only black member of the Students’ Representative Council, Oupa Makoti, said the predominantly Afrikaans culture at the residences had driven away black students. A gay student, who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity, said he had been forced to flee the Helshoogte, or Hell’s Heights, residence after rotten food and human feces were smeared on his door and he had been threatened. Andres de Wet of the university’s Liberal Students’ Association said the assailants were against any “alternative lifestyle.” Groups that targeted “unwanted elements” operated at most of the university’s hostels, he said. Philip Krawitz, chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in the Cape, said that the board would be in contact with Malan to try to establish the facts. “The board will always protect any instances of anti-Semitism and will do its best to ensure that not only the rights of Jews are protected, but those of others as well,” Krawitz said. South Africa’s constitution “recognizes and embraces the unique diversity of our population. We need to give the right to every individual to choose the style of life and the religious affiliation that they believe is most appropriate to their needs,” he said. “It would indeed be a sad day if that right were to be usurped by those intent upon imposing their own ideologies on others.”
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Moira Schneider is a JTA correspondent in South Africa. A law graduate and psychology major, she is the Cape Town correspondent for the South African Jewish Report. She contributes to London's Jewish Chronicle, is a reporter for the Cape Jewish Chronicle and has been published in the Cape Times and Cape Argus.