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Last blackface "should have been a wake-up"

10 February, 07:29 AM

A snap of two Stellenbosch University students dressed up as aliens for an outer space party prompted cries of blackface on social media and in the press in early February 2016. University management suspended the students pending an investigation.

A previous incident of blackface involving Stellenbosch students in 2014 "should have been a wake-up call" says the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR). In that case two white, male students dressed up as black tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams. The university investigated the matter but took no disciplinary action against the two involved. One of them issued an apology on Facebook.

Days after the 2016 incident racial graffiti appeared on a wall at the Oliver Schreiner School of Law Building on campus at the University of the Witwatersrand. It caused upset for its targeting of white people and amounted to hate speech, according to the SAIRR. An image of a student wearing a T-shirt with the same wording ('Fuck White People') appeared online.

Wits University issued a statement saying, while it condemned the offensive messages, according to the law, the statement did not necessarily incite any harm.

"We have been advised that legally, the statements may not be a violation of our country's Constitution, which provides for freedom of expression, unless it constitutes incitement to cause harm.

"In this instance, while the messages are certainly hurtful, we have been advised that they may not directly incite harm."

In this video, spokesperson Mienke Steytler tackles both cases. She explains the problems of blackface and notes the South African Human Rights Commission has the capacity to address complaints of hate speech based on race, in terms of the Constitution of South Africa.

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