Cape Town - An opinion piece about love and race in the University of Cape Town's (UCT) student newspaper has got some people's pulses racing, but not for the right reasons.
The Varsity newspaper piece titled “Is Love Colour Blind?” was 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” (biracial), 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 UCT Student Representative Council (SRC) said on Thursday it was compelled to comment on the opinion piece, while at the same time respecting the newspaper's autonomy.
“In this particular instance, the SRC cannot condone the manner in which a very sensitive issue has been approached,” said SRC president Lorne Hallendorff.
“...Greater sensitivity should have been shown to an issue that has painful historical significance. To draw conclusions from a poll of 60 people fails any real statistical requirements.”
She said the onus was on the writer to comply with various statistical methods to ensure validity.
The SRC was forced to dismiss the poll, since it lacked statistical merit.
Hallendorff said they stood by the university's values to “strive to provide an environment for our diverse student and staff community that is affirming and inclusive of all staff and students and promotes diversity”.
The Young Community League of SA's (YCLSA) UCT branch said it was “shocked and disgusted” by the survey.
“The YCLSA is working toward a non-racial South Africa in which the deep wounds of the past are not easily forgotten,” said branch chairman Mangaliso Khomo.
“Under the apartheid and colonial governments, white was deemed the most desirable of races and blacks were forced to use skin whitening creams that burned their faces in order to find employment and education.”
The organisation said it planned to lodge a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission later on Thursday, demanding an apology and retraction from the newspaper.
Varsity news editor-in-chief Alexandra Nagel, however, issued an apology in a press release on Thursday afternoon.
She said the intention of the piece was to create a platform for students to engage on a very prevalent topic.
The newspaper's role was to act as a mediator and platform, in the same way as social networking sites Twitter and Facebook.
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.” - Sapa