Stellenbosch University File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Academics calling for the removal of the Stellenbosch University article denounced as racist say their complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will test whether the research was a form of “hate speech”. 

The academics, led by UCT Associate Professor of English Barbara Boswell, said they had also begun a process with the Women’s Legal Centre against the controversial research article “Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in coloured South African women”. 

The article, published in an international scientific journal, assessed cognitive functioning and its association with age and education in a sample of young and middle-aged coloured South African women. 

It found coloured women had an increased risk of low cognitive functioning due to low education levels and an unhealthy lifestyle. 

Following outrage, the university announced its own investigation into allegations of a breach of research norms and standards in the publishing of the research article. The institution unconditionally apologised for the “pain and anguish” caused by the article. 

Boswell said the article was merely one instance of the larger problem of the continuation of colonial knowledge production. 

“We do not support punishment or retribution against the five researchers who wrote the racist, sexist article. Unfortunately, the management seems to have had a knee-jerk reaction to what is a systemic problem. “The article should prompt us to have a public, robust discussion on the root causes of how the structures at the university allowed researchers to sustain and abuse positions of privilege, even establishing careers out of a ‘Sara Baartman psychosis’ regarding people of colour as objects to be forever subjugated to examination by the ‘master race’,” she said. 

She said remedies sought from the SAHRC included the re-examination of the research ethics committees, research departments and other structures concerned with research and its funding. 

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the media would be informed when the investigation was completed. SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen was out of the country and could not respond by deadline.  

CAPE TIMES