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Stellenbosch University condemned for Twitter post featuring majority of white women

The Rooiplein at Stellenbosch University. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

The Rooiplein at Stellenbosch University. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Published Mar 10, 2022

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Cape Town - Stellenbosch University (SU) has come under fire and labelled a racist institution after its Twitter page had a picture featuring mostly white women in celebration of International Women’s Day on Tuesday.

Following the commotion on social media, SU removed the picture featuring 10 women.

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It had been posted with the caption: “Theme of #InternationalWomen’sDay this year is #BreakTheBias, marking a call to celebrate the achievement of women’s equality. To mark this day, women in top management at SU share their views on this issue…”

SA Students Congress (Sasco) deputy president Buyile Matiwane said the post represented how tone deaf SU was.

“It indicates the deep-rooted, systemically backward cultural capital of the university. Stellenbosch University is still a bastion of whiteness and lack of reform,” he said.

He said until it got management, council and senior academics that appreciated the need to transform, there would be very little steps forward.

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Education activist Hendrick Makaneta accused the university of remaining “a hallmark of racism long after the official demise of apartheid”.

Makaneta said the post by SU posed a fundamental question of whether transformation goals at the university were less important than those in the rest of the terrain of higher education.

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“To this end the portfolio committee on higher education should wake up from slumber and call the SU management to come and account on how far they have gone with regards to transformation at the institution since 1994,” he said.

Makaneta said people could not afford to stand aside and watch while some universities paid lip service to the issue of change.

“The fact that the English language was introduced as a medium of instruction does not mean that racism is dead at SU,” he said.

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SU spokesperson Martin Viljoen said it acknowledged that the picture used in error was insensitive and apologised unreservedly.

Viljoen said over the years, the university had actively promoted the profile of female academics and leaders through the extensive placement of articles and opinion editorials in the media. However, that did not change the fact that the particular post created an alternative impression.

"As the picture is not a reflection of what the university aspires to, it has been removed from our website and social media, along with the accompanying article," he said.

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He emphasised that representation and transformation at top and senior management level was and would remain a core focus on the university’s agenda.

"While this is a journey not without its challenges, we can report that progress has been made – specifically with regard to growth in representative academic staff numbers and the appointment of members from these population groups to senior positions," Viljoen said.

He said it was also pointed out to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation during its recent oversight visit to the university on February 16.

"To improve the percentage of black Africans and all other designated groups, employment equity targets have been set, taking into consideration the opportunities identified in the form of anticipated retirements and vacancies," he said.

He said the council had also approved that, for each manager at all levels of the university, the transformation key performance indicators would make up 25% of the performance score.

EFF Western Cape chairperson Melikhaya Xego said it was disgusted, but not surprised, “by the blatant racism displayed by SU”.

"This conspicuous display and celebration of whiteness at a university where there are also other women who represent different race groups and cultures is a deliberate act of erasure of black women and women of colour," Xego said.

He called on the executive management of the university to institute an investigation into the matter.

"We also call on society to collectively condemn SU for their deliberate erasure of black women and women of colour in its celebration of International Women’s Day. As the EFF in the Western Cape, we vehemently condemn this white nostalgia depicted by the University."

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