Pretoria - The SA Human Rights Commission launched an investigation on Thursday after two white students from the University of Pretoria (UP) were photographed in domestic worker outfits and smeared with black paint.
“While the commission has still not received a complaint in this regard, the commission decided to launch an own initiative investigation,” spokesman Isaac Mangena told Sapa.
“The commission will be particularly interested in the measures to be implemented by the university to address this matter and its significance to other learners at a broader level.”
Mangena welcomed the investigation by the university and said it would monitor it.
“We welcome the measures taken by the university which we understand has instituted disciplinary measures against the learners.
“It is important to allow this process to take its course, a process which the commission will also closely monitor. We will seek a full report of the disciplinary process as part of our investigation.”
The picture shows the pair of female students in domestic worker outfits with black paint smeared on their faces and arms. They pose with headscarves and padded bottoms. The picture was published in various newspapers this week.
Earlier on Thursday, the university said the students had been kicked out of their campus residence.
“They were expelled from the residence but not from university,” UP spokeswoman Nicolize Mulder said.
“This is pending further investigation and the disciplinary process.”
They could still attend classes as “due process” needed to be followed.
The students are accused of bringing the name of the university into disrepute.
The students' action was considered racist by many people commenting on social networks with the hashtag #blackface.
Mulder declined to provide information on what the two were studying, or their ages.
She said the picture was taken at a private 21st birthday party but because they were students at the institution an investigation was launched.
Mulder said the university would not tolerate any form of discrimination or racism, adding that their behaviour was “completely unacceptable”.
The SA Students Congress (Sasco) said it felt particularly angered by the picture and accused white people and the university of teaching its youth to disrespect black people.
“It is clear to us that the white community assisted by institutions of white privilege, like UP, are teaching white youth to disrespect and poke fun at black suffering,” Sasco president Ntuthuko Makhombothi said on Wednesday.
“We have absolutely no confidence in the supposed disciplinary action the university seeks to institute against their precious white students,”
Makhombothi said the picture was distasteful and “racist to the extreme.”
“Black women in our country continue to suffer from triple oppression as black, female, and working class. This incident ridicules the situation of black women in our country and reinforces racist stereotypes about our mothers.”
He said the continued existence of “institutions of white privilege” was an untenable “crisis”, and that the patience of black people in South Africa was “quickly diminishing”.
“Black students will not fold their arms as their suffering and that of their parents is made fun of. The dignity of Africans cannot be trampled on without consequences to the perpetrators.” - Sapa