Open Stellenbosch retracts apology to suspended 'purpleface' students

2016-02-09 11:03
Poekie Briedenhann and a friend pose for a selfie at a space-themed residence party. (Twitter)

Poekie Briedenhann and a friend pose for a selfie at a space-themed residence party. (Twitter)

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Cape Town - Student movement Open Stellenbosch has retracted an apology it sent to two students after the pair's purple costumes were deemed racist on social media, claiming their actions were "still blackface".

Student Poekie Briedenhann and a friend drew much controversy on Instagram after posting a picture of themselves in what appeared at the time to be dark paint, possibly brown or black, and were subsequently accused of donning "blackface".

Following the fallout, the students were suspended from their residence and an investigation was launched by the university.

Briedenhann took to social media on Friday to apologise for any offence the picture had caused, but stressed that the pair had been dressed up as purple aliens for a space-themed residence party.

- Read More: Stellenbosch 'blackface' incident was actually purple-face

Other images of the event circulated on social media thereafter, seemingly backing up their version of events.

Open Stellenbosch initially apologised to the pair on Monday, with the original apology reading:

"We wish to retract our statement of Friday 5 February 2016 with respect to the mistaken incident of blackface that occurred at Heemsteede residence.

"When new information came to light on social and mainstream media we noted that the initial images shared were misleading and that this was not, in fact, a case of students dressing up in blackface.

"We hereby apologise to the two students involved, who were suspended from their residence."

'Still blackface'

The group, however, removed the apology after a few hours, and on Tuesday morning, said their stance had changed.

In a new Facebook post, the group said that the picture should be considered within the context of heated racial debate at the university recently, and was therefore still "blackface".

"[Monday's] apology was however issued without the consensus of the collective and should not be considered to be the current stance of OS on the 'blackface' incident," the post read.

"We as OS maintain that the fact that the student filtered the photo to appear black and then knowingly continued to upload the photo herself onto social media clearly confirms that this is a blackface incident."

Open Stellenbosch then said it would continue to call for the two students to be expelled from the university.

Attempts by News24 to contact a representative from Open Stellenbosch on Tuesday were unsuccessful.


Open Stellenbosch's original apology, which has since been removed. (Screengrab, Facebook)

Purple face

The students involved said they took responsibility for the incident.

"We are aware that our actions in the #blackfacing incident last night at the Heemstede stellar space party where painting our bodies dark purple and cover[ed] with glitter appeared as black and thus as attempt to demean and exotify blackness," Briedenhann said.

"We apologise for any offence occurred and take full responsibility for this."

The university is still investigating the matter.

Vice-Chancellor Wim De Villiers said the university would not comment on the matter until its investigation was complete.

"In such matters we are guided by our disciplinary code for students. The university cannot act on comments or photographs in the media, on social media, or individual opinions," read a statement released on Monday.

"If there are allegations of misconduct, or if the name of the University or the maintenance of order and discipline is prejudiced, the university has a responsibility to investigate."

Read more on:    stellenbosch university  |  cape town  |  racism

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