UCT calls student article on race "problematic"

By Drum Digital
05 April 2013

A student newspaper piece about love and race, which sparked a complaint, is problematic in many ways, the University of Cape Town (UCT) said on Friday.

"UCT respects the right of all to express themselves, and the right of a student newspaper, like Varsity (which has editorial independence), to print what it wants," spokeswoman Pat Lucas said.

"[However], the article in the April 2, 2013 edition of Varsity newspaper, titled "Is love colour-blind?" is problematic in many instances."

Lucas said it was incorrect to use the headline "UCT votes on most attractive race" for a pie-chart that reflected the views of only 60 students.

She said the most worrying matter was the thinking behind the article.

"One would have hoped that a more informed, enlightened view would have guided those involved to understand the offensiveness of the question that was asked, namely: 'Which race is more attractive?'," she said.

The university appreciated that the piece had created discussion, even if it was sometimes offensive and uncomfortable.

Such an experience could serve to change people's perspectives and become educational, she said.

"UCT wishes for its student newspaper to be an example of outstanding editorial quality. In this case, perhaps the journalist and the paper disappointed."

The opinion piece was written by UCT student Qamran Tabo and explored interracial dating.

Tabo surveyed sixty students, ten of each who said they considered themselves to be white, coloured, Indian, East Asian, "mixed" (bi-racial), or black.

A pie-chart accompanying the piece surmised that 38 percent of students apparently thought whites were the most "attractive" race, followed by coloureds, and Indians.

The lowest percentage by race was blacks (eight percent).

Varsity news editor-in-chief Alexandra Nagel issued an apology in a press release on Thursday afternoon.

She said the newspaper's role was to act as a mediator and platform, and that the intention of the piece was for students to engage on a very prevalent topic.

It did not sanction hate speech, but endorsed the right to have an opinion and create a forum for response.

The Young Communist League of SA UCT branch, in a statement on Friday, rejected the newspaper's response and retraction of only the pie chart heading.

It stated that the article had incited racial division and caused psychological harm to students.

"We all deserve a [full] retraction and an apology from all concerned with the publication of this filth," the statement read.

"The article and its alleged survey were always leading to inculcate a culture of one race being the jewel of all others. It is despicable to read and should not have been published, even more so that we were without the full details of the survey."

It called on the university to dedicate a month to "race relations building" programmes and for the newspaper to dedicate a full page to racial issues in every issue until the end of year.

"If the editorial team is not able to fulfil the above requested feature of the newspaper, we as the YCLSA of UCT are prepared to do such an article."

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) confirmed that the YCLSA lodged a formal complaint.

"We confirm we received a complaint on Thursday and we are busy looking into it. The respondents in this matter are the Varsity newspaper, the editorial staff, and UCT," said SAHRC spokesman Isaac Mangena.

The commission would study the complaint, list the allegations in letters to the respondents, and give them an opportunity to respond.

The commission would then deliberate and deliver a ruling timeously, depending on the co-operation of all parties.

Lucas said the university would co-operate fully with the SAHRC investigation.

- By Sapa

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