Legal action on cards over varsity's handling of 'blackface' incident

Cape Town – The families of two Stellenbosch University students involved in a "blackface" incident are considering legal action, despite a personal phone call from the vice chancellor and his announcement of an independent probe.

Dr Joggie Briedenhann, father of Christine "Poekie" Briedenhann, 20, said he felt positive when Rector and Vice Chancellor Wim de Villiers phoned him for the first time on Wednesday.

"We spoke about quite a lot of confidential things. He was supportive, but could have defused the situation many days ago," he told News24 by telephone from Namibia.

"The important question I had for him was: if it was your daughter, how would you feel in my position now? Would you understand I have no option but legal action because I haven’t had any answers? He understands that."

He said he and the family of Jo-Anne Cloete, 19, had hired a lawyer to take legal steps against the university, its Student Representative Council, and Open Stellenbosch.

He wanted the parties to apologise and for the university to put procedures in place to make sure the same treatment of students never happened again.

Controversy erupted on social media after a picture of Briedenhann and her friend Cloete emerged with their faces and bodies covered with what, at the time, appeared to be dark paint.

They subsequently apologised for any offence the picture had caused, but emphasised that they had dressed up as purple aliens for a space-themed residence party.

The university placed them on temporary suspension, which it lifted it a week ago after investigating the matter.

'Poekie is not holding grudges'

Briedenhann, an orthodontist in Windhoek, said the first he heard of the incident was when his daughter sent him a message on February 5.

She told him she had been called for a meeting, was in big trouble, and that the family should pray for her.

"I think it wasn’t handled correctly. They should have informed us as parents that there was a meeting with that agenda point. Once they suspended the children, at least give us a call so we can arrange alternative accommodation."

De Villiers announced on Friday that an independent commissioner would be appointed to investigate the incident and how it was handled.

Briedenhann said their lawyer had approached the university to get clarity on the investigation.

"Poekie obviously received a lot of hate mail and threats. Her face and number were even posted all over campus."

He said his daughter was the most sensitive of his children. Despite being Afrikaans, she attended English schools with pupils of different races.

"When this incident happened, she received a lot of support as well and was quite strong. She knows she is innocent and hasn’t done anything wrong. Poekie is not holding grudges against anyone now."

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