The students painted themselves black for a private birthday party on 20 September. The theme of the party was 'Twinning', as the birthday party was for a pair of twins.
Here are the two Stellenbosch students dressed as the Williams sisters in blackface: do you think this is offensive? pic.twitter.com/MuV6vUIrsx — John Robbie (@702JohnRobbie) September 24, 2014
The photo of the pair, wearing wigs and headbands, went viral on Twitter and Facebook, with various views on the apparent ‘black face’ incident. "This was not intended to represent racial stereotype but rather to directly depict and represent the Williams sisters,” Ross Bartlett and Mark Burman have defended their actions, saying, “We attended dressed as Venus and Serena Williams – successful American tennis-playing siblings. Unfortunately, as we all know this has resulted in the misinterpretation of painting our bodies black and has been associated with “black facing”, which we now know is a disparaging practice used to portray offensive racial stereotypes, and we cannot stress enough that this was not our intent.”
'To make us more recognisable characters, we painted our entire bodies'
“To make us more recognisable characters, we painted our entire bodies. This was not intended to represent racial stereotype but rather to directly depict and represent the Williams sisters,” the students said, in the statement on Mark Burman's Facebook page.
Stellenbosch University has responded to the incident, with spokesperson Martin Viljoen saying, “Stellenbosch University strongly disapproves of any action that could possibly offend any of its students, staff and members of the public, and which is contradictory to the Constitution and the welcoming campus culture that SU wants to promote.
Prof Leopoldt van Huyssteen, acting Rector and Vice-chancellor, said, “Based on the buzz on social media, including references to ‘blackface’, it is clear that there are various views and opinions. It would be premature to jump to conclusions or to anticipate the actions to be taken. The SU management will consider appropriate steps pending the outcome of the investigation.
“The incident has ignited debate on campus and we trust that this will lead to greater mutual understanding in our student community.”
SOURCES: sun.ac.za, ewn.co.za, news24.com