Study reinforces racism

ANC, Western Cape

The ANC in the Western Cape joins the call to retract the University of Stellenbosch (US) study, “Age and education effects on cognitive functioning in coloured South African women”, by Department of Sport Science researchers that claims coloured women have an increased risk of low cognitive functioning due to low education levels and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours.

We believe that this study propagates the practice of discrimination and stigmatisation on racial grounds, under the guise of scientific research and should therefore not be condoned.

Insinuating that coloured women are “intellectually deficient” is harmful and exaggerated. Given the limitations raised in the study itself exemplified by the limited sample size of 60 women in comparison with the entire “coloured” population in South Africa, reinforces undesirable race and gender relations in a post-apartheid SA, and undermines the quest for democratic ideals.

The greatest risk with this finding is the “generalisation” and the impact thereof in terms of perpetuating existing stereotypes. Like most, particularly black communities in South Africa, “coloured” communities are already under siege in terms of socio-economic challenges such as youth unemployment, lack of access to quality education and training, safety and security issues, employment equity concerns and therefore should not be isolated regarding effects of such deprivation if such effects are real as purported by the study.

Also, such deprivation cannot bring racialised stereotypes only to coloured people, as a group, and coloured women in particular if the said conditions are not unique to this group only as proven by many studies in SA, including the data on triple challenges we face: poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Moreover, the findings consciously or unconsciously emulsify traditional stereotypes, which purport the role of women as being inferior and second-class citizens in society, which is harmful and conflates a number of “race and gender” issues.

We call on the Gender Commission to review the study and add their voice if the content infringes on the rights of women in general, and coloured women in particular, the necessary action must be instituted. Likewise, the Human Rights Commission of SA should not allow such sentiments to infiltrate the public domain without moderation.

Just like the consequences borne out of individual racist ramblings, so should academics be subjected too.

Coloured women in South Africa cannot be denigrated as human beings using scientific studies from reputable institutions such as Stellenbosch University.

What is to become of the coloured women in SA and the world given this study? What should a young coloured girl-child believe about herself, when reading or presented with this scientific interpretation of her identity? Where were the supervisors, the ethics committee and the management of the university when such a product was approved and given credence under their name, as the institution of the future?

Should we then believe that Stellenbosch University harbours degradation of the past, and is refusing to be part of the journey to rid itself and contribute to a new SA regarding gender and race stereotypes? Apartheid leanings should not be tolerated, especially in our publicly-funded institutions, as such will be a generational curse this country cannot afford.

The academia ought to be cautioned, and not be used as a platform for practising “scientific racism” that UNESCO denounced after World War II. This school of thought saw a lot of scientific studies that justified with scientific research racial segregation, or what was known as “Master Race”, in the form of apartheid in SA. The “Poor white problem in SA: Report of Carnegie Commission” and Dudley Kidd writings; “Savage Childhood: Study of Kafir Children” are just some evidence to this scientific racism, in our country’s past.

Academic freedom must never be abused to drive sentiments in conflict with our hard-won and internationally acclaimed human rights values espoused in our Constitution as the supreme law. Such freedoms ought to reflect the contextual and historical realities of the South Africa we are today, for what we have been yesteryear so to foster liberating ourselves and our minds of that past. This we do to co-create a tomorrow that always remembers and navigates a future resolute of its generational obligation to build inclusivity in both science and practice. This type of study and its findings can be viewed as ignorant to that reality and further delays the ideal of a non-racial, non-sexist and united South Africa.

Institutions of higher learning must take greater care to ensure that scholarly research ethical principles and processes are upheld in terms of methods, procedures or perspectives.

Following claims that suggest the study methodology is scientifically and fatally flawed, this is a damning concern for the academic fraternity, hence we support the call to retract the study. Further, we request our Minister of Higher Education, Dr Naledi Pandor and HESA to investigate this matter and provide a report to the public on how such must not ever be allowed at Stellenbosch University or any other institution within South Africa.

Professor Eugene Cloete, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, Stellenbosch University, responds in a statement released by the university:

Stellenbosch University acknowledges the importance of the rigorous academic discussion and critical debate that followed the publication of an article titled, “Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in Coloured South African women, in a scientific journal on normal and dysfunctional development, Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition.” We are, however, concerned about the pain and anger that the article has solicited within the academic community and broader society. As an institution we are opposed to racism, including intellectual racism or attributing cognitive capacities such as intelligence in terms of race. The university has a process of ethical clearance of all research projects on human subjects, and the relevant committee that reviewed the project from which this article emanated, approved a broader study proposal on the risk factors for heart disease, physical activity, fitness, eating habits and cognitive functions of coloured women in Stellenbosch.

The specific article reports on the effect of environmental factors on the cognitive development within one of South Africa’s most vulnerable groups that was marginalised during apartheid and remained so during the post-apartheid era. As clearly indicated in the article, the findings, opinions, conclusions and recommendations are those of the authors alone. The university as an institution neither condones nor evaluates the opinions reached by its scholars as participants in this academic debate. Stellenbosch University supports its researchers and asks for a responsible and fair debate on this research.

Stellenbosch University is committed to both academic freedom and open and critical scientific debate, of which peer-reviewed scholarly research is the cornerstone. All scholars are aware that scientific output will have to withstand the scrutiny of fellow researchers, not only to determine its suitability for publication in accredited journals, but also in the public domain.

Research for impact, one of Stellenbosch University’s six strategic themes, is guided by societal needs and challenges. We support research themes that advance the civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights as set out in the South African Bill of Rights.