Four black university workers duped by white students into eating food allegedly tainted with urine for a video expressed their pain and anger at a press conference Thursday.
The video, which showed the women and one man on their knees eating the food, has now been seen around the world, exposing deep racial tensions in South Africa, more than a decade after racist white rule ended.
"We feel pain," said Emma Koko, 40, who has been working for the university for 20 years and whose son attends classes there. "It's something we were not expecting. We regard them (the students) as our children."
Authorities at the University of the Free State have launched a criminal probe into the making of the video. Two of the students involved left the university last year and the other two have now been barred from campus.
The university in the city of Bloemfontein, is regarded as a bastion for Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch settlers who are often most closely linked with white apartheid rule. While visitors enter the campus along Nelson Mandela Drive, statues of Afrikaner heroes dot the neat gardens and many of the university buildings bear their names.
The campus was quiet Thursday after classes had been suspended Wednesday when police had to use a stun grenade to disperse stone-throwing students protesting the video. White and black students walked to and from classes _ but seldom together. A few police patrolled the campus.
It is thought that the video, made last year, was surfacing now in protest against new university efforts to integrate residences. The video depicts a mock initiation ceremony common to many universities around the world. However, the participants in the ceremony are middle aged black cleaners.
The cleaners all evidently know and like the students and laugh while trying to eat what looks like dog food mixed with garlic. Unknown to the cleaners, one of the students urinated on the food beforehand, according to the video footage.
Commentary on the video in Afrikaans included sarcastic reference to the university's policy of integrating the campus dorms _ being phased in only this year, 14 years after the end of apartheid.
Speaking on behalf of the women, the university's legal adviser Lesley Mokgoro, said the women "were misled to believe they were taking part in a competition."
"They were not aware of what they were participating in," Mokgoro said. "They have been seriously affected by this."
As the university swarmed with local and international journalists, talk on radio shows and coffee shops in Bloemfontein was about the shocking betrayal of the relationship between the women and the students.
University rector Frederick Fourie said he had been reduced to tears by the incident and the student's duplicity.
"Their actions were despicable. The packaging (of the footage) was humiliating. That was not unplanned," he said.
Fourie acknowledged integration at the school was "not perfect" and "not sufficient."
The university, known for its good science departments, is one of a handful of tertiary institutions set up for the Afrikaans elite across the country. They all have high academic standards but are seen as conservative and have struggled with racial integration since opening their doors to black students in the early 1990s.
Black students make up 60 percent of the Free State university's 25,000-strong student body. Most of the support staff is black but over 80 percent of teaching staff is still white.
Outside Reitz, the residence where the video was made and where eight of 138 dwellers are black, young white men lounged in caps sporting the logo of farming equipment manufacturer John Deere.
The student head of the residence, Pieter Odendaal, said the video had been taken out of its "humorous" context and that the workers had not been duped or humiliated.
He said the student in the video was "not really urinating" and had poured water from a bottle on the food.
But he acknowledges that the video has given the residence a bad reputation. One many black students feel is well deserved.
Commerce student Mpho Mothibi, 24, said she had dogs set on her by Reitz residents during an inter-dorm event three years ago.
"This is not the first time there has been an incident with the residence," she said.
Mothibi and her friend Avika Sooknanan, a former student, say racial tensions are high on the campus.
"Every black persons has a story of racism, directly or indirectly," said Sooknanan.
She said that white students were patronizing toward black workers and showed them a "lot of disrespect.
"One of the ladies in the video told me I must just ignore them, that it was just their way; that they are being silly," said Mothibi. "It saddened me to hear her talk like that, like she never expected anything better."