The brutal images depict a black South African schoolboy being stripped naked by a group of white teenagers, then being tied to a bed and sexually assaulted with a toothbrush and mop handle as they hurl racist slurs.
Photos of the incident at a high school in South Africa's Northwest province – with the victim and alleged assailants identified – appeared on the front page of a local newspaper, the Diamond Fields Advertiser. Video has also been posted.
On Friday, four suspects, aged 14 to 19, appeared in court to answer to what the director of the South African Institute of Race Relations, Frans Cronje, has labeled "a new low for race relations."
More than two decades after the end of apartheid, the South African Human Rights Commission, which receives about 500 cases of racist abuse or attacks annually, has reported a disturbing upsurge in cases at universities and elsewhere.
In a Cape Town court Friday, André van Deventer, 36, was sentenced to two years under house arrest for spitting on a 50-year-old black female domestic servant and using a racist slur.
Last month, Talana-Jo Huysamer, 23, of Capetown, was charged with assault for Tasering a woman and using a racist slur. Also last month, a group of black parents at a Pretoria private school alleged that classes were being segregated by race.
As images have spread of the high school dormitory attack, anger has intensified due to some people on social media dismissing it as no more than a brutal school "initiation" of a new student.
The video shows a youngster weeping and screaming, while several other boys laugh as they shave him and smear him with shaving cream.
The victim's mother told the Diamond Fields Advertiser said her son was initially ordered to do push-ups.
"He then got down and did the push-ups but another learner then hit him with a pipe. My son then told the child to stop hitting him. The instigator then took the pipe and hit him. My son got up and went to his room."
She said the pupils followed her son to his room before proceeding with the attack.
Cronje called for the harshest possible sanctions to be applied.
"Serious questions must be asked of parents – how did they raise their children," the institute tweeted. "Equally serious questions asked of school – what value systems are instilled in pupils."
Regional education director Grizelda Cjiekella-Lecholo said, "This type of behavior is un-African, inhumane and does not belong in our schooling system. I am going to ensure that these boys face the full might of our due process and the law."