Complaint lodged over ‘attractive race’ article

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A student reads the UCT student newspaper, Varsity, which carried a controversial survey asking which race students found most attractive. Photo: Ross Jansen

 Cape Town - The Young Communist League of SA has lodged a complaint over an opinion piece in the University of Cape Town's student newspaper, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Friday.

“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.

The YCLSA UCT branch's complaint was based on a Varsity newspaper piece titled “Is Love Colour Blind?” published in the paper on Tuesday and written by Qamran Tabo.

Tabo explored interracial dating and 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 titled “UCT votes on the most attractive race” 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).

The piece was questioned by a number of individuals and organisations, including the UCT Student Representative Council (SRC), which said greater sensitivity should have been shown to an issue that had “painful historical significance”.

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.

“I emphasise that the 'survey' conducted by the writer was for her personal insight and not that of a definitive, scholarly analysis. It was intended as a social commentary on the society in which she resides,” Nagel said.

She formally retracted the title of the pie chart and said the chart should be read in conjunction with the article, and not as a separate piece.

The article was written in the opinions section and thus did not necessarily reflect the views of the newspaper, as stated in the online disclaimer, she said.

“I am aware of the controversy surrounding the sensitivity of race and I understand that the right to freedom of expression has its limits when used unnecessarily to discriminate against others, slandering religion, race, sexuality.

“However, Varsity feels that the writer was not abusing this right nor had the intention of issuing an attack on individual racial groups, but simply pinpointing a matter that is still affecting the lives of South Africans.”

The YCLSA 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 1/8full 3/8 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.”

UCT was not immediately available to respond. - Sapa


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