Race row 3 escape action

2014-09-30 00:00

THE University of Stellenbosch will not be instituting disciplinary action against the three students who were involved in last week’s “blackface” row.

Earlier this month, Michael Weaver, Ross Bartlett and Mark Burmann attended a themed 21st birthday party at Amazink in Kayamandi, Cape Town.

Bartlett and Burmann impersonated tennis superstar sisters Venus and Serena Williams. They wore tennis gear and painted their faces black.

Weaver posted a photograph of Bartlett and Burmann on his Instagram account and the picture went viral on Twitter and Facebook.

Burmann and Bartlett are both former Hilton College pupils. Burmann was a head boy and Bartlett was a head of house in 2011.

The university, which celebrates diversity week this week, is the second university to be embroiled in a similar incident.

The trio issued a joint statement explaining and apologising for their actions on Thursday last week.

Yesterday the university’s spokesperson Martin Viljoen said “blackface” would become part of the curriculum.

Viljoen said: “The meaning of ‘blackface’ and the related sensitivities will be included in discussions in residences, the listening, learning and living structures, in leadership training and the 2015 welcoming programme.”

Viljoen said it will also form part of the short course curriculum of the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development.

Acting rector and vice-chancellor Professor Leopoldt van Huyssteen said management regarded the incident in a serious light.

Van Huyssteen said: “Our country’s history and vulnerable relations demand that we should be sensitive to remarks, actions and terminology that may be hurtful and offensive. The storm that the photo provoked on campus, in the media and on social platforms, confirmed this in the run up to the university’s diversity week.”

Chairperson of the university’s Student Representative Council, Stefan Laing, welcomed the university’s decision.

“Focusing on the wound or what caused it, is not as effective as ensuring that it heals properly,” said Laing.

Freedom of Expression Institute’s Raymond Louw said sometimes South Africans over-reacted when it came to race issues.

Louw said: “I feel that this type of complaint was taken too far. The boys were exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

He said dressing up as the Williams sisters should be regarded as an honour, “but I am aware that South Africa is still very sensitive”, said Louw.

He commended the trio for apologising.

• amanda.khoza@witness.co.za

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