Beauty divides varsity

05 April 2013 - 03:32 By QUINTON MTYALA
GOING UP: Jameson Hall, the focal point of the University of Cape Town, which boasts one of SA's costliest BCom degrees
GOING UP: Jameson Hall, the focal point of the University of Cape Town, which boasts one of SA's costliest BCom degrees

Beauty has sparked a racial row at the University of Cape Town barely two months after Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande set up a committee to assess transformation at tertiary institutions.

A survey by a student at UCT, the results of which were published in the campus newspaper, The Varsity, this week found that most students considered white people "more attractive".

Yesterday, The Varsity was forced to apologise for publishing the article "Is love colour-blind?" after it came under fire on social media from the UCT Student Representative Council, national students' organisation Sasco and the Young Communist League.

The league said it would report the publication to the Human Rights Commission and demanded "a full apology" and retraction of the article.

In the article, which was illustrated with a pie chart, writer Qamran Tabo said she had asked 60 people on the UCT campus which was "the more attractive race".

Thirty-eight percent said they considered whites the most attractive.

Coloureds came in second, with 19% finding them attractive.

About 14% of those surveyed said they found Indians attractive.

Only 8% said they found blacks attractive.

It is not clear when Qabo undertook the survey but she said she had interviewed students of all races.

"In total I surveyed 60 people, 10 from each of the following racial groups: white, coloured (culturally), Indian, East Asian, biracial and African," she wrote.

Mangaliso Khomo, chairman of the UCT branch of the Young Communist League, said the publication of the survey was insensitive and that race relations on the campus were "a work in progress".

In February, the university decided to scrap its race-based admissions policy, saying it was "undesirable" and that alternative ways of implementing affirmative action had to be found.

Khomo said the beauty survey sought to place a "hierarchy on race".

Sandile Dayi, a second-year applied maths student, said the article contradicted UCT's claims of transformation and inclusivity.

"It further marginalises black people on campus. We already feel unwelcome," said Dayi.

Matthew Davis, a second-year politics and economics student, said he was disgusted by the article and its premise that one race could be classed above another. The small sample surveyed was not representative of UCT's student body.

The DA-controlled Student Representative Council at the university criticised the newspaper for its insensitivity.

"We believe that any media body has a responsibility to consider the context in which it exists and the sensitivity of the issues on which it reports. In the case of this particular matter, greater sensitivity should have been shown to an issue that has painful historical significance," said SRC chairman Lorne Hallendorff.

UCT spokesman Pat Lucas said The Varsity publication was managed by students, who had control of editorial content.

"The university upholds the right of students to exercise responsible free speech in public forums, such as opinion articles. However, the editorial team is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the content it publishes.

"In acknowledgment of this responsibility it has issued a statement retracting the title of a pie chart that is incorrectly labelled 'UCT votes on most attractive race'," Lucas said.

The newspaper's editor, Alexandra Nagel, said the article was published to create a platform from which students could engage each other on a topic still relevant in South Africa.

"I formally retract the title of the pie chart because this was not a formal 'survey' by the University of Cape Town.

"It is important to note that the pie chart should be read in conjunction with the article and not as a separate assessment.

Frans Cronje, deputy CEO of the SA Institute of Race Relations, tweeted yesterday: "Can't see how publishing survey results is racist. Funny how the sometimes proponents of free speech change [when] they don't like what is said."

Nzimande announced the formation of the transformation-monitoring committee in January, saying that though the government supported the autonomy of universities, autonomy could not be used to defend racism and sexism.