Picture: WITS
Picture: WITS

A lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) has been suspended for allegedly making derogatory racial remarks about protesting university workers.

The man‚ identified as engineering lecturer Dieter Hartmann‚ was alleged to have sent through an e-mail in which he labelled the strikers as "monkeys".

"The lecturer will not be allowed onto the university’s campuses whilst the matter is being dealt with by the university’s transformation and employee relations offices‚ in line with the university’s rules‚ policies and procedures‚" said Wits spokesperson Buhle Zuma.

"The university does not tolerate any form of prejudice and will ensure that the matter is addressed expeditiously‚" she added.

Hartmann allegedly sent the e-mail while members of the National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) were protesting for a wage increase at the institution last week.

In a screenshot of an e-mail‚ posted on Twitter by Hosi? @Sochangane‚ Hartmann allegedly said: "Oh no. They’re singing outside my window now. Urgh. Monkeys. Biggest. Jungle. Connect the dots."

Nehawu said it was infuriated over the purported remarks and hoped that the university would take action.

"We are aware of the incident. It is unacceptable that years into democracy we still have a situation where black people are subjected to racial hatred. Truth is‚ the majority of people who are affected by low wages are blacks. We are getting infuriated with this‚" said Khaya Xaba‚ Nehawu spokesperson.

Xaba said that they were following up on the matter and "so should the Human Rights Commission".

Hartmann could not be reached for comment. However‚ in another e-mail screenshot‚ the lecturer is said to have apologised for his remarks.

"But I hope that after a year of getting to know me‚ you realise that I don’t have the nature that intends hurt or to harm others. I hope that after all this time‚ you know that my heart is not a racist one. I also hope that you know me to be someone who jokes‚ about contextual issues and that these can‚ at times be out there and close to the line‚" read the screenshot.

Hartmann further wrote that what he had said was taken out of context‚ saying: "In context‚ words always mean something different.

"I hope that you can see beyond the words to appreciate that there was no hurtful intent. That is just not my nature."

He further stated that he was in "trouble" because the institution was aware of the incident.

"I completely concede that this wasn’t funny‚ and you have my apology. Unreserved. The line was crossed." read his e-mail.