In defence of Theuns du Toit – OPINION | Politicsweb
In defence of Theuns du Toit
James Myburgh |
27 July 2022
James Myburgh writes on the likely explanation for the student’s actions that a racially-blinded SU seems to have missed
On 15th May 2022 the news broke of an apparently horrific racial incident at Huis Marais, a residence at Stellenbosch University. In the early hours of that morning a drunk white student, Theuns du Toit, had gone into the room of a black student, Babalo Ndwayana, and urinated all over his desk, damaging various items including a laptop.
In a statement issued several hours after the incident SASCO Stellenbosch condemned this “racist” attack stating that “when asked by the victim the racist response was that it is what they do to black boys.” Anything short of expulsion and potentially criminal charges, SASCO decreed, “would he regarded or as seen as injustice, this racist criminal act deserves the highest punishment.”
That evening a video of the incident was posted to social media, and the following week mass protests were held at the university with black students holding up signs saying, “we are not toilets”. An online petition calling for Theuns du Toit to be expelled, posted by Anke Spies, stated that this was a “racially motivated attack, and in response to his actions, Du Toit claimed ‘this is what we do to black boys’.” It soon attracted tens of thousands of signatories.
On the Monday Stellenbosch University issued a statement condemning this “destructive, hurtful and racist incident” and announced that Du Toit was being suspended from the university pending disciplinary action. The University would also go on to appoint the former Constitutional Court judge Sisi Khampepe to lead an inquiry into allegations of “racism” at SU.
In the public debate Du Toit became the focus of the common South African ritual of the “Two Weeks Hate” – the object of intense popular hatred; the face of enduring, lying and insulting notions of white superiority. A stream of denunciations followed – refuting, smashing, and ridiculing both Du Toit’s disgusting actions and the horrible and repulsive “racism” that had motivated them. He was denounced by the Minister of Justice, the President, the Cabinet, the EFF, the ANC, GOOD SA, and many, many others.
How is it possible, News24 Editor Adriaan Basson asked, “that in 2022, a young white man thinks it’s acceptable to urinate on the desk, laptop and books of his black peer?” In a column in the Sunday Times, the newspaper’s deputy editor Makhudu Sefara denounced Du Toit as a “racist” who “hated black people” whom he probably regarded as “subhuman” due to his racist upbringing post-1994. My view, Sefara continued, “is that young man Du Toit deliberately acted out his barbaric behaviour because he knows black life is not only cheap, but that even our political leaders show no respect for it.”
In the wave of self-righteous denunciations that followed there was one voice that was missing, that of Du Toit himself. The Weekend Argus reported that those who knew him regarded him as anything but a “racist”. He had been very drunk at the time the incident occurred and could not even remember it.
The disciplinary hearing against Du Toit, in which Ndwayana refused to participate, concluded at the end of June. The report of the Central Disciplinary Committee was issued last week. It found Du Toit guilty on most charges, including of “racism”, and ordered his expulsion from the university. The ruling was welcomed by many at the university, although Du Toit’s lawyer did say he would file an appeal.
If one takes the popular narrative as one’s guide, one would think that a monstrously racist act was committed, that Stellenbosch University acted resolutely to deal with it, and another blow has been struck against “racism” in South Africa. And yet if you look at the facts set out by the disciplinary committee, the significance of which it clearly missed, the explanation for Du Toit’s actions is both obvious, and obviously not “racism”. And if one accepts this in turn, it is clear that Du Toit has been the victim of great wrong.
According to the disciplinary committee’s report what happened in the lead up to the incident was the following. On Saturday evening 14th May 2022 at around 7.30 pm Theuns du Toit and a friend “Mr. Y” sat down together at their residence Huis Marais and polished off a bottle of brandy together. Du Toit drank about half of it. At around 10pm that evening the two went out to two establishments in town where Du Toit would consume another eight double brandies with “mixes”.
During this period, Du Toit told his disciplinary hearing, that there were periods of the time at the establishments where he ‘blanked out’ and could not remember what happened.
Du Toit and Y returned, obviously drunk, to Huis Marais at 3am Sunday morning. They went into the room of a friend, Mr Z, jumped on his bed and woke him up.
After about 10 minutes Y left to go sleep in his room. Du Toit meanwhile, who was intoxicated and slurring his words, unsuccessfully sought to call another friend in the residence, after which he fell fast asleep on Z’s bed. Z tried to wake him but could not, after which Z also went back to sleep on his bed.
At around 4.30am, needing to relieve himself, Du Toit got out of Z’s bed, went out into the corridor and then into a room two doors down (the door was unlocked), and without turning on the light, started urinating in a corner.
This was the room of a friend of Du Toit’s – whom Du Toit knew was away for the weekend – and of Babalo Ndwayana, who Du Toit had met and been on amicable terms with previously. Ndwayana, hearing someone in his room turned on the light and saw Du Toit urinating on his study desk and over his laptop, a textbook and three notebooks.
Another student (Mr X) was walking by, saw what was happening, and advised Ndwayana to record the incident on his phone. In the clip that was recorded the conversation proceeds as follows:
BN: “Why are you peeing bra in my room.”
BN: “Why are peeing in my room bra?”
TdT: “Waiting for someone”.
TdT expostulates something like “b-ooi”
TdT: “Waiting for your roommate”.
Du Toit then left the room and on the way out said something like “white boy thing” in response to a further question from Ndwayana about what he thought he was doing. It was only Ndwayana who heard this and while he related a version of this comment to others soon after the incident he refused to testify at the inquiry. His claim could thus not be probed, tested, or put in context.
The committee confirmed that Du Toit had never said “this is what [we whites] do to black boys” as claimed in the initial SASCO statement or in the online petition, now with over a hundred thousand signatories, organised by Anke Spies.
Du Toit then went back to Z’s bed and fell back asleep. He awoke at 6am and returned to his own room to sleep. When he got up at 10am that morning he remembered much of what had happened the previous evening, but he had zero recollection of the urination incident.
He was informed of it on waking up after which he went to Ndwayana’s room with three others, to ask what had happened, and proceeded (inadequately, in Ndwayana’s view) to try and clean up his mess. At this point Ndwayana would have learnt – from his side – that Du Toit had no memory of what had happened.
Since he had no memory whatsoever about the event in question Du Toit could not present to the disciplinary committee any sort of explanation or defence of either his actions or his words. All he could do was argue that he had not behaved “wilfully” – that he lacked capacity and intention. It was not in his character to destroy someone else’s property intentionally, he testified, or act out of base racial motivations. His “friends of colour” told the committee that he was a “non-racist” individual.
All of this was relayed, and none of it disputed, by the disciplinary committee in its report. It also accepted that Du Toit was a first-time offender, showed “true remorse”, and (unlike Ndwayana, whose legal representatives it strongly criticised) had at all times cooperated with them.
Given that Du Toit could present no explanation for his motivations, he very much threw himself on the mercy of the committee. Although it decided by majority vote that his expostulation was the word “boy” it cleared him of this charge, as this was not regarded as a racial insult by students of his generation.
The committee however said that his state of heavy intoxication could not be taken as an excuse. It said he was in control of his body when he “walked himself into Mr Ndwayana’s room, he relieved himself on Mr Ndwayana’s property, he engaged in conversation with Mr Ndwayana, and then finally, he walked himself out of Mr Ndwayana’s room. At no point did he lack the capacity of conducting his own bodily mechanics. This is indicative of wilful conduct.”
Furthermore, and “most damningly”, Du Toit did not stop urinating after the lights were turned on, and he could see where he was, and what he was urinating on. The fact that he continued to pee “illuminate[d] the necessary wilfulness”.
The committee convicted him under the disciplinary code of trespassing, of damaging Ndwayana’s property, and of “racism” for his “white boy” comment. The committee decided that interaction should be viewed racially. Although Ndwayana had refused to testify, and his claims could not be tested and probed – and Du Toit could not remember either what he had said or meant by what he had said – the committee decided that what he had intended to say was that “[peeing on other people’s/people of colour’s property] is a white boy thing”.
The committee opined that, in line with Constitutional Court precedent, it would take into account the fact that this was a “white man perpetrating an offence against a black man” and accordingly it could not conclude that this “statement is anything but racist. It is purely racist. It assumes such dominion over another person – effectively portraying Mr. Ndwayana and people of colour as the toilet for white men.”
It ordered Du Toit’s expulsion with immediate effect on the urination and the “white boy” charges. It recommended that a copy of its ruling be made public and be sent to Justice Khampepe.
At this point this judgment reads like a vindication of all those who accused Du Toit of “racism” and demanded his expulsion. There is just one small problem. The committee was evidently so eager to convict Du Toit of this moral crime, and to signal to the world that Stellenbosch University had no tolerance for it, that it missed the obvious explanation for Du Toit’s strange actions, one that was sitting right in front of its nose.
If you return to the undisputed facts, they are as follows. Du Toit clearly drank far too much over the evening. He then fell fast asleep in someone else’s room early in the morning and about an hour-and-half later, at a time of deep sleep, he got up out of a pressing need to relieve himself (alcohol being a diuretic). When asked by Ndwayana, on video, why he was peeing he answered, but in a bizarre fashion, nor did he desist from what he was doing. When he woke up the following morning, he had complete amnesia.
The disciplinary committee regarded all this as evidence of “wilfulness”, but this is quite wrong. Both the facts and circumstances of the incident point to this being an episode of parasomnia. Du Toit was, in other words, sleepwalking throughout the incident. As one online medical source puts it: “Sleepwalking is when you’re moving around and look awake but are actually asleep. You won’t remember it the next day. Sleepwalking is most common during a stage called deep non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep early in the night.” It can be brought on by being drunk.
As another medical source states: “Sleepwalking or somnambulism is an arousal disorder resulting in ambulatory behavior in stage three of sleep. During these nocturnal episodes, the individual is disoriented with eyes open, and the events may range from ambulating aimlessly, playing a musical instrument, performing inappropriate behavior like urinating in the closet, driving or moving out of the house or resulting in self-injurious action like walking off the balcony. These events can be alarming and disrupt the quality of sleep of their bed partners as well.” A third one notes “Sleepwalkers typically do not respond to redirection during the episode.”
This phenomenon of individuals urinating in inappropriate places while sleepwalking – after falling asleep following an evening of heavy drinking – is one familiar to anyone who went to a university with a strong drinking culture. It is also a topic of discussion on many Reddit threads, and there are videos on YouTube of it happening. One woman recounted her experience as follows:
“My boyfriend and I were asleep after a night of drinking when he woke me up by getting out of bed. I assumed he was getting up to go pee in our bathroom but instead he just walked to the other side of the room and stood there facing away from me. I then heard what sounded like someone peeing in the toilette (lots of splashing and frothing).
I thought I was crazy at first because what I was seeing did not match up with what I was hearing – he was clearly not standing at the toilette, but he was definitely peeing. I sat up, looked down and realized that he was pissing in our dog’s water bowl. I immediately yelled “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” to which he responded with “It’s OK, Phil does it all the time”. Phil is our dog. He does not pee in his water bowl.
Through my continuous screaming he kind of snapped out of it, cut off his stream, walked to the toilette and continued peeing. Once he was done, he yelled “SHIT!”, got the dog bowl, poured the pee into the toilette, and washed it out.
The next day, all he could remember was me yelling at him and him snapping out of it. I found it hilarious (because there really wasn’t any harm done) and made fun of him constantly.”
There can be little doubt that the same thing happened in Du Toit’s case. Unlike the girlfriend quoted above, Ndwayana did not recognise this at the time it happened, failed to snap Du Toit out of his sleep state, and initially believed that he was being deliberately targeted and demeaned, probably based on his race.
Yet rather than allowing for the matter to be sorted out within the residence during the day, Ndwayana had already escalated his complaint to the Students Representative Council by lunchtime. After this the incident (and his video) would soon be taken out of his hands and used by others to promote their own agendas, and he would be swept along (apparently) unenthusiastically.
If one accepts this central fact – that this was an episode of parasomnia – the way the whole incident can be perceived changes by 180 degrees. It would be self-evidently wrong to violently condemn, let alone severely punish, someone for their disgusting actions and nonsensical utterances when they were not just inebriated but still fast asleep. It is like beating a small child for having wet a bed during the night. To impute grotesque “racist” motivations to Du Toit then for what he did and said while he was sleep walking is also both ridiculous and self-evidently unjust.
What though of all those in the student body, the administration, and the media, who went after this young student? They do not have the excuse of being heavily inebriated and operating while literally still in a dream state.
In its initial comment on the incident, Stellenbosch University stated that “Human dignity is non-negotiable and must be respected, upheld and restored when affected.” It is an obvious infringement on a person’s dignity and privacy to film them while they are urinating, and especially when they are in a state where they are not even conscious of where they are, what they are doing, and what is going on around them.
In the moment it was entirely understandable for Ndwayana to do this. But this recording was also highly degrading of Du Toit and his personal dignity and as such its further distribution deserved to be extremely limited. It was presumably though forwarded on from one person to another and by the evening it had been posted to social media where it was subsequently viewed by tens of millions of people all over the world. Since this was not a “racist” incident after all, and internal processes still had to run their course, there was absolutely no public interest in putting this material online.
Stellenbosch University has said and done nothing about this. So upholding human dignity is clearly not a “non-negotiable” for them at all. At best it is heavily conditional on the race of the person concerned. The university has also claimed throughout the affair that it has a “zero-tolerance” approach to “racism”. And yet if anyone was being racially defamed it was Du Toit himself.
He was being accused, judged, convicted, and condemned – by SASCO, the SRC, student protesters, the administration, and ultimately by members of the disciplinary committee itself – first and foremost based on his skin colour. None of these organisations and individuals could believe that he could have acted out of anything other than (white) “racism”. As a result of their own visceral racial reactions, they failed even to consider any other explanations for his actions, no matter how compelling.
One of the common rationales for apartheid, as formulated by Stellenbosch University intellectuals in times gone by, was that it would remove “racial friction”, and therefore occasions for racial discord, from society. There can be no such inter-racial incidents – whereby a sleepwalking student urinates in the room of a person of a different race – if institutions such as residences are strictly segregated. If you want racial integration – as Stellenbosch University now claims to do – then you also must accept that inter-racial incidents, accidents, and misunderstandings will occur. These then must be dealt with wisely, calmly, and proportionally by adults in authority.
The “racists” in a multi-racial society, in the originating and true sense of the word, are those who take ambiguous inter-racial incidents and accidents, impute malign racial motives to the culprit, and use them to stir up racial hatred and discord more generally. This is exactly what racial demagogues used to do in pre-Nazi Germany.
It is an indication of the profoundly inadequate (not to mention perverse) contemporary understanding of “racism” that similar behaviour in our media and politics today is not just condoned but is celebrated as somehow “anti-racist”.
If Stellenbosch University is serious about tackling the actual evil of “racism” in the institution, a key focus of the Khampepe inquiry should be the cruel, cowardly, and racially driven way key organisations at the university went after Theuns du Toit.