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Maties unit investigates 'blackface'

05 February, 06:01 PM

Stellenbosch University’s newly formed Equality Unit is investigating an incident at one of its female residences. A photograph taken at Heemstede Women's Residence this week shows two white students whose skin is covered in a dark pigment. Their hair is pulled back in ponytails and both appear smiling at the camera, while holding drinks.

According to the residence's official Facebook page, the photograph was taken at Heemstede Women's Residence on the evening of Thursday, 5 February. Some students have said the theme was aliens and that the two students were wearing purple paint for the occasion.

However, their appearance has been interpreted as an example of blackface. "We do not condone racism in any way," reads the residence's social media post, which announced cooperation with the university on an invesitgation. Meanwhile Stellenbosch University issued a statement on its website announcing swift action on the matter.

When News24 reporter Erin Bates asked Viljoen why he chose place the word blackface in inverted commas in the statement, he said the investigation was pending and the student's intentions were not yet clear.

The statement stated, "It has been established that two female students are involved." Another university channel stated one of the students is studying law. The university statement cited a similar incident involving Stellenbosch students in 2014.

Two white, male students dressed up as black tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams for a 21st birthday party in 2014. Ultimately no disciplinary action was taken against the duo.

Then acting rector and vice-chancellor, Professor Leopoldt van Huyssteen, said although the institution would not be taking any disciplinary action, they still regarded the incident in a very serious light

"Our country’s history and vulnerable relations demand that we should be sensitive to remarks, actions and terminology that may be hurtful and offensive," he said.

"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. The chain of events over the past week resulted in a valuable learning experience for the three students and our campus community,” he said.

At the time, City Press reported a university plan to include discussions on race in residences to prevent such incidences. They were said to become part of the 2015 welcoming programme.

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