12/02/2018 12:44 SAST | Updated 12/02/2018 13:11 SAST

Athlete Claims He And Caster Semenya Were Racially Abused In Potchefstroom

One of three black athletes attacked, allegedly by white NWU students, says racial abuse happens regularly.

Rantso Mokopane.
Rantso Mokopane.

Rantso Mokopane, one of the athletes allegedly attacked alongside Thabang Mosiako and Sandy Londt last weekend, told HuffPost that he had been a victim of racial attacks in Potchefstroom before — once while in the company of world 800m women's champion Caster Semenya.

"It is white people continuing with racial attacks," Mokopane told HuffPost.

The 23-year-old former South African steeplechase, 1,500m and cross-country champion, recalled an incident in which he was verbally assaulted outside Varsity Café.

He was with Semenya when "a drunk, white man" swore at the pair continuously.

"He came after us, and we said, 'We are not going to fight you,'" Mokopane said.

Mosiako, who is the South African 5,000m champion, suffered a head injury when his head was repeatedly bashed on the ground in last week's incident by a group of students — believed to be from North-West University (NWU).

Mosiako was admitted to Potchefstroom Hospital with head trauma, but has since been discharged and is recovering at home. It is unclear as yet whether he will be recovered enough to travel to the African Championships in Algeria next month.

"It is going to continue and continue, until someone is dead."

The incident started when the trio tried to intervene in an incident at local hangout spot, Varsity Café, where their attackers were swearing at a cashier. The white men then left the venue, but apparently gathered some friends.

As Mosiako, Mokopane and Londt left the café, they found 10 "rugby-bodied men" waiting to attack them.

However, when police arrived at the scene, they also allegedly targeted the three victims: Mokopane says they were beaten with batons.

"We felt discriminated against," he told the Potchefstroom Herald over the weekend.

"I really do not understand [claims that the three were just 'in the wrong place at the wrong time'] – [are] we as blacks are not allowed to have a nice time, because it is a place for white people?"
– Rantso Mokopane

Mokopane claims that these incidents happen regularly, but perpetrators aren't reprimanded for their behaviour.

"These people are doing this, they know nothing is going to happen to them. It is going to continue and continue, until someone is dead," he said.

Mokopane says many Potchestroom residents who have experienced the same kind of discrimination have reached out to him since the incident happened.

"I get so many messages of people who were assaulted previously, but nothing happened to the people who assaulted them. It seems like we are foreigners here — we are not wanted. Every time you walk here, you must walk in pairs, because something is going to happen to you," he said.

He says the notion that they were in "the wrong place at the wrong time" is unfair.

"I really do not understand that — [are] we as blacks are not allowed to have a nice time, because it is a place for white people?"

Police To Establish Task Team

No arrests have been made to date; however, North West police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Adele Myburgh told HuffPost on Monday that a task team would be established to investigate the matter.

According to Myburgh, this was a necessary step, considering the magnitude of the case.

"The allegations that there are so many suspects involved... will make it very difficult for only one person to investigate," she said.

NWU is working with police to find the perpetrators.

"The most important thing is for protection services to assist police with information," university spokesperson Louis Jacobs said.

Despite the incident happening off campus, the university says it was willing to do everything in its power to get to the bottom of the matter.

"Any incident of racism is condemned in the strongest sense," he said.

He explained that if it was found the NWU students were involved, "internal disciplinary processes would be used, and this could result in suspensions".

HuffPost attempted to confirm the alleged racist attack with Semenya but she could not be reached before publication. Semenya's comments will be added as soon as she responds.