Another ‘blackface’ scandal

2014-09-25 00:00

THE two Stellenbosch University students at the centre of the latest “blackface” scandal are former pupils of one of KwaZulu-Natal’s elite private schools.

This week Stellenbosch University, which is celebrating diversity week, became the latest institution to be involved in a “blackface” scandal.

This is the second such incident at a South African university in the past two months.

Hilton College principal Peter Ducasse yesterday confirmed that Mark Burman was head boy and Ross Bartlett a head of house in 2011.

Burman and Bartlett’s friend and fellow student Michael Weaver on Sunday posted a photograph on Instagram of them with their faces painted black.

The photograph, taken at a themed 21st birthday party on September 20, showed Burman and Bartlett impersonating tennis superstar sisters Serena and Venus Williams. The young men’s faces are painted black and the caption read: “Hanging out with the Williams Sisters last night at the Boli’s 21st. Let’s hope they don’t get kicked out the university for this one!”

The photo went viral on Twitter eliciting outrage from many, with some calling for the students to be suspended.

Burman and Bartlett, in the wake of the furore, yesterday issued a statement explaining their actions and apologising for them. They said they did not mean to offend or insult anyone. “We are aware that this has caused a lot of hurt at our university and throughout South Africa … We would like to reassure you that there was absolutely no malicious or racial intent in what we did. It was an error in judgment on all our behalves, and we regret this,” read their statement.

Ducasse yesterday defended their actions, saying that they were well-behaved young men with strong morals. Ducasse said: “They are very good and principled boys with sound values. I have no doubt that this was done for fun and not to deliberately offend people.

“At face value it appears to be thoughtless and insensitive, but I know they did not mean to be offensive,” said Ducasse.

However, Ducasse did not condone their behaviour. “The school does not believe in what they did,” he said.

The University of Pretoria is investigating a similar incident where a photograph of two of their female students — with their faces blackened and dressed up as domestic workers — was posted on social networks.

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the students’ behaviour contradicted the Constitution and the welcoming campus culture that the university wants to promote.

Viljoen said, “The university strongly disapproves of any action that could possibly offend any of its students, staff and members of the public.”

Viljoen said, “Management will consider appropriate steps pending the outcome of the investigation.”

The university’s Student Representative Council said “blackfacing is discriminatory and unacceptable”.

Their statement read, “The action of blackfacing is insensitive and hurtful and therefore requires accountability …”

The SRC said it believed that expelling the two men was not the right solution, “as it would treat the symptoms and not the cause,” read the statement.

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