Stellenbosch University
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SU Management responds to "Luister" video
Author: Korporatiewe Bemarking
Published: 22/08/2015

Prof Wim de Villiers: Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Stellenbosch University:

The Management of Stellenbosch University has thoroughly taken note of the "Luister" video that was distributed via social media.

The video touches on several important issues that affect students at SU. In fact, it is indeed sad that some of our students are still exposed to dehumanising experiences of racism and other forms of discrimination – in spite of the progress that we as a University has made.  My management and I are not indifferent towards these issues as they are exactly the kind of challenges that are currently receiving pertinent attention on various levels and in high-level discussions with groups and individuals on campus.

However, to insinuate that the University is not serious about transformation, that it turns a blind eye to flagrant racism or that it in some sense advocates or maintain a culture of apartheid at the University, is simply not true and cannot go unchallenged.

In my mind there is no doubt that the University prioritises transformation in every sense of the word and we are very intentional in how we go about it. I am on record in stressing that the University is acutely aware of the need to accelerate and deepen the process of transformation. To this end we are working purposefully and in a structured and focused way.

I also need to be very upfront about the fact that the violation of human rights, victimisation in any sense, racism, classism, sexism and all other forms of discrimination, will not be tolerated – regardless of who is involved. Proof to this is termination of the service contract of a lecturer who sent a racist SMS to a student earlier this year.

In the Luister-video, the impression is created that I and by implication my management, do not listen to students or that we do not care about their lived experiences on campus. This borders on being disingenuous.  On various platforms – for example in my inauguration speech and in communiques to staff and students – I have repeatedly invited the campus community to enter into discussions with myself and my management and to relate to me their experiences and concerns, thoughts and dreams. Fact is that I have received very positive responses and numerous of these very fruitful conversations have already occurred.

I have also invited the campus community to make written contributions with regard to transformation and other issues affecting our students. I have received several of these contributions this year, inter alia, from the Student Representative Council, individual members of the University community (staff, students and alumni), from our Listen, Live and Learn student housing communities, the Open Stellenbosch movement and other formal and informal campus organisations. All these inputs are seriously considered by the SU administration. On certain of these issues I have responded in full, while on others a large number of staff members are working around the clock to create workable solutions and to address the concerns and needs of our students and staff.

Furthermore, we don't only listen, we act concretely.

Just over the last few months, management has, to name a few, participated in a dignity march (on invitation by students); removed the Verwoerd plaque (an initiative that was started by students); created a bursary fund for descendants of forcibly removed inhabitants of Die Vlakte (a direct response to students calling for such a bursary); announced the establishment of a Transformation Office and Transformation Committee (not only as a part of a structured process of transformation but also after being requested so by student groups); made an investment of R70 million in the  diversification of the University's staff corps (as a natural outflow of our commitment to greater inclusivity but also as a response to this being a national challenge highlighted by some of our students); and we created task teams that give priority attention to the practical implementation of the University's language policy.

I made strategic appointments to top management to directly and purposefully advance transformation. Management is also working towards the establishment of a Research Chair in Reconciliation and Transformation.

And only this past Saturday I participated in launching the Kayamandi Oral History Research Project in Kayamandi in Stellenbosch as part of our engagement with our community, where I have again confirmed our willingness in creating a better and fairer society.

These are only some of the initiatives this year that attest to the seriousness with which my management and I approach transformation. We are also working hard on various other institutional matters such as broadening access to the University and increasing the number of Black, Coloured and Indian students (currently making up one third of the institution's undergraduate student population with an objective to reach 50% by 2018/2019 – on postgraduate level it is already 50%) and improving student success. SU makes the biggest contribution to individual student funding, possibly the largest per capita of all South African higher education institutions.

(Click here for more information on these initiatives such as the recruitment bursaries.)

I have also continuously updated the campus community on the progress we are making via communiques to staff and students during the course of this year.

My management and I are also keenly aware of the fact that the institutional culture on campus is experienced by some of our students as unwelcoming. This is an issue that is receiving top priority at the University with very focused interventions aimed at creating a welcoming and inclusive campus culture. The University has, for example, instituted with great success the Listen, Live and Learn student communities on campus that already play a crucial role in ensuring that the University is becoming home to all. The LLL programme is not an isolated initiative either, with its principles applying throughout student housing. Physical and organisational structures such as new residential units, clusters and hubs have been created to facilitate change in the campus culture – advanced by a progressive residence placement policy.

The effect this ethos had on the university and its students is profound. As I have pointed out in a recent letter to staff and students: There is a clear delineation of unacceptable welcoming practices at the University and respect for human rights, intolerance of displays of power and voluntary participation have become the guiding motif. The University is acting sternly against students and student leaders who do not adhere to the University's values. In addition physical and organisational structures such as new residential units, clusters and hubs have been created to facilitate change in the campus culture – advanced by a very progressive residence placement policy.

And importantly: The progressive commitment and actions of the University, its staff and its students are sometimes negatively influenced by a few individuals who act in an insensitive and highly unacceptable manner towards others , even when off campus and in their private capacities. These incidents in no way represent the majority of SU students or staff members who understand and appreciate our diversity and contribute constructively to the South African society. Neither can the actions or words of these individuals be construed as the official stance or culture of the institution. SU sees its role as an important change agent by creating an environment in which students and staff from all backgrounds can flourish. It is therefore regrettable that reprehensible incidents can obscure years' of positive work towards redress and development.

Misrepresentations

I also need to add that as far as the video is concerned, there are certain misrepresentations that must be pointed out.

  • One such issue is that the University takes disciplinary action against students who participate in protests. This is not the case. The University acknowledged in various communication pieces this year the right of students to take part in protest action, provided that it takes place within the rules and guidelines applicable to the entire campus community; that academic and administrative activities are not disrupted; that the rights of fellow students to study are not infringed upon; and that no risks are created. Actions such as the disruption of a lecture and the disruption of a careers fair in July are completely unacceptable and the University has an obligation to act against the guilty parties in these cases.
  • The video also creates the impression that Elsenburg is part of Stellenbosch University. This is not true since Elsenburg resorts under the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape.
  • The video refers to certain incidents in town. The University is keenly aware of the fact that some of our students don't feel welcome in certain parts of the town and that they have experiences of social discrimination and exclusion. This is sadly still reflective of broader South African society. Although the University cannot be hold accountable for what happens in pubs and elsewhere in town, the University has nevertheless on many occasions engaged with the South African Police Force, the Municipality and even pub owners on this very particular issue. Students who feel that they are the victims of racial prejudice or that their human rights have been infringed, should report this to the authorities and to the university.

The Management of Stellenbosch University remains committed to open discussions with all stakeholders and to transformation.  

We are on an exciting journey of profound transformation and innovation and we are thankful for what we have achieved, and excited about what the University can be. In our Strategic Framework of 2000 we had acknowledged the contribution of Stellenbosch University to the wrongs of the apartheid past (and this apology has since been reiterated publicly by all three the consecutive Vice-Chancellors including myself), and we have committed ourselves to a process of restitution and transformation. This commitment has been confirmed in the Institutional Intent and Strategy of 2013. We are deeply committed to this process. We express appreciation to all stakeholders and role players, amongst others students and staff, alumni and various partners of the university who work hard to make renewal and transformation a reality.

(This is an updated version of a media statement that was released on Friday 21 August. Read the original statement here.)



 

 

David PersseDavid Persse2015-08-23T18:20:58ZHi Wim I have just read your response to the video. Well done. I do not believe that the position you hold is vaguely easy and I admire you for taking it and your family for agreeing to let you take it, it must be all consuming. You aren't by any chance the William de Villiers who was part of the USAT production " Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are dead" by Tom Stoppard that we took to the Grahamstown Festival in the early eighties ? The racial dilemna is an ongoing thing and you seem to be open minded about it. I am sure that with a level head and controlled emotion you will be sympathetic to all parties in the debate. The solution is probably not going to happen in your lifetime though - maybe never ! A friend of my daughter was awarded a sports scholarship to a University in the USA. I do not know which one, but it was way down South. I recently bumped into his parents. They had just been to his graduation. They were amazed at the racism they encountered and said that it was far worse than here in the good old RSA. They had asked the estate agent that they were renting accomodation from what the best place to have a decent meal in town was. They were told what it was, but were advised to not go as the Obamas had recently eaten there ! I honestly do not believe that Afrikaans is a problem. We have 11 official languages, so you have a 9% chance of pleasing everyone. If I were to enroll at UC Davis, I would expect to be lectured in English, even if I was Mexican, if I were to enroll at the Sorbonne, I would expect to be lectured in French even If I was Spanish, just as If I were to enroll at Stellenbosch, I would expect to be lectured in Afrikaans. Surprising though in my time how many lectures were in English. In 1979 I had the pleasure of Maths 178 in English. One request, please sort out the initiation in the koshuise. I was a first year in Dagbreek in 1979. I have never recovered from it. I lived in fear for an entire year. The most confusing thing was that the proponents of it were all theological students. After bottling it up for years I am now not embarrased to tell an old Dagbreeker when I meet him and he admits to liking the place that he is a complete idiot. Please give Eugene Cloete my best regards. Good Luck - I wish you every success David Persse
Lance MillerLance Miller2015-08-23T19:42:17ZFor many 'transformation' means African or black domination. I hope you don't get transformed out of a job Dr Wim. If you go it is unlikely that you will ever be replaced by a white professor. That is the uncomfortable truth in SA today. What a disaster, isn't it time that the law, the system and the state become colour-blind?
Dr. Bulumko LusuDr. Bulumko Lusu2015-08-23T21:34:48ZHello Re: "The video also creates the impression that Elsenburg is part of Stellenbosch University. This is not true since Elsenburg resorts under the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape." This year's welcoming program states that the "BAgric" degree is offered "in collaberation with the Cape Institute for agricultural training". I would appreciate some clarity please : Is the university saying that it distances itself and takes no responsibilty for any wrong-doing that occurs at an institution with which it has chosen to go into partnership with/is affiliated with? Can someone please explain/elaborate. Many Thanks Dr.Bulumko Lusu [Stellenbosch alumnus and currently a post-graduate student at the University of Stellenbosch]
Yamkela TyaphaYamkela Tyapha2015-08-23T22:20:52ZSo we struggled to submit academic work so that you could update your lies? Ok, Wim.
Onica Nonhlanhla Makwakwa Onica Nonhlanhla Makwakwa 2015-08-24T10:46:08ZAs a parent, this statement is a great disappointment and in fact proves that the university cares more about its corporate image than the issues at hand. I would like to see the university be more proactive about this issues rather than reactionary. You can't change something that you don't believe is broken so stop defending racism and start addressing it directly.
Theo HardingTheo Harding2015-08-24T11:14:04ZUnder the Constitution of South Africa the term black only refers to black South Africans and not Black Africans as a collective. As a previous post graduate student at Stellenbosch I notice that US administration consider the collective as black and not just actual black South Africans. Black Africans by far outnumbered the small number of black or non-white South Africans at the institution during my time there which is problematic in the manner the university apply's South African Law.
Hanno LoubserHanno Loubser2015-08-24T11:34:10ZGreat statement by the university. It is unfair how the grievances of a these students were abused in efforts to discredit the university. It is '"cheap shot" and no more than propoganda. Why would you insult thousands of people and calling them rasists because the action of a handful of inappropraite individuals. I do have sympathy for these students and what they experienced is UNACCEPTABLE. But how it was/is used to stirr up emotions is wrong. This video displays a distorted image of the best university in South Africa. Come to the Institute for Plant Biotechnology and we will show you how mulicultural and transfromed Stellenbosch University really is.
DanielDaniel2015-08-24T12:03:44ZI am incredibly frustrated by the new aim of the university. Why should a world class university look to make the ratio of white and non white even. Our grades and achievements should dictate whether we get accepted or not, it should have nothing to do with the colour of your skin. Doing this will create a lot more racism in the long run. Don't compromise on the standard of our education because the minority can shout louder than the majority. There are a lot of whites and non whites who feel the university doesn't need to change.
AnnabellaAnnabella2015-08-24T12:19:42ZClearly the university is doing a lot to establish inclusivity and transformation which is much appreciated. However nothing was said about the Language Policy. That's the important issue. It needs to be addressed.
P.SkitiP.Skiti2015-08-24T15:34:28ZJust over the last few months, management has, to name a few, participated in a dignity march (on invitation by students); removed the Verwoerd plaque (an initiative that was started by students),; created a bursary fund for descendants of forcibly removed inhabitants of Die Vlakte (a direct response to students calling for such a bursary); announced the establishment of a Transformation Office and Transformation Committee (not only as a part of a structured process of transformation but also after being requested so by student groups). Who are these student groups?
P.SkitiP.Skiti2015-08-24T15:42:19ZThese are only some of the initiatives this year that attest to the seriousness with which my management and I approach transformation. We are also working hard on various other institutional matters such as broadening access to the University and increasing the number of Black, Coloured and Indian students (currently making up one third of the institution's undergraduate student population with an objective to reach 50% by 2018/2019 – on postgraduate level it is already 50%) and improving student success. As postgraduate at SU, How did you come-up with 50 % of black postgraduate that enrolling already?
Elena PattersonElena Patterson2015-08-24T16:02:49ZAs Ou-Maties, my husband and I were shocked at the attitudes and actions of these young racists. Please remember that none of these students were even born in the Apartheid era, nor ever lived under that uniquely repressive regime. There is therefore absolutely no reason for them to feel any sense of superiority over their black South African co-students; in fact, they are demonstrating their own immorality and low self-esteem. The issue of Afrikaans/English seems to be fanning the flames too - isn't this a PUBLICLY FUNDED University, a tax funded institution? While it was definitey a public Afrikaans University under Apartheid, it is now a very different 'Public' entity, and, like it or not, one for which the Administration is a fiduciary for all South Africans. The new South African Rainbow Nation has been around for more than 20 years, and it's time Stellenbosch's administrators began to face this reality.
GraceGrace2015-08-25T18:38:06ZWe pray for you Mr Wim. Be courageous and bold and lead like David, I am black and the statement release is proof that you have a great desire to make change in your term, that in itself needs to be applauded. I know many Afrkaanse and English who don't agree with your stance, in choosing to hear and act upon the grievances of black people at this University - feeling that you are just a puppet to the South African system that wants to advance the cause for Black Dominantion. I don't feel that is true though, specifically to they guy that says when you go SU will have a black Rector...even if it did, what would be wrong with that? Its this racist notions that must be detsroyed and guys like that, who need to be confronted. God be with you and strengthen you. Its tough to be a leader because you honestly can't please everyone, but all we can hope is that you stand to advance righteousness, good and hope and destroy evil at every chance it wants to get in this Institution. We herald you and say Qhuba! Azania!!!!
TshepoTshepo2015-08-22T12:18:09Zthis statement is disappointing, but expected
IshmaelIshmael2015-08-22T16:06:18ZRacism is rooted within the culture of SU. In such instances, the management is not capable of doing anything. We hear a lot of stories from students and it is evident that SU disregard their stories. Racism is taught, it is never born.
IgnatiusIgnatius2015-08-23T11:50:26Zi think the situation at Stellenbosch is no different to North west University, Pukke campus. this afrikaans universities are working together to sustain racism and aprtheid. also we cant expect people who schooled und lived under the system of segregation to be committed to transformation. lastly, as long as white people control land and economy racism will not end. afrikaans here at Pukke is attached to white supremacy and whit privilege. anc failed us including eff. all of them are silent abount racism because they are afraid to hurt white people. so black students rather suffer and use translation devices to learn at both pukke and martie. we are also fighting here at pukke even though media is not giving us attention. we say translators must fall(0715800639).
Thando MkizeThando Mkize2015-09-08T19:02:52ZI have followed discussions on Luister in the media, social media and the SU website. Many have taken to commenting emotionally on the issues at hand, there by missing the bigger picture. I don't believe for one second that the documentary was made to discredit the university but I believe it's purpose was to highlight the plight of black students at Stellenbostch University who's pain and greif I could see in their eyes as they talked about their experiances as SU students in and around the university. I agree with the sentiment expressed by the VC that the documentary was one sided and didn't tell the other side of the story. However, this still doesn't deligitamise the outcries of the aggrieved students. There is a bigger picture that I feel many are missing. What stood out for me was that the students also experienced racism in some public places in and around town. The students also keep on mentioning that they were told that they "don't belong here". What I gather from this is that an 'afrikaans culture' has been established in the town by the community and (according to some) is seen to be at risk when people who don't 'fit in' to this culture are seen to be going against 'cultural practises/norms' or invading spaces of cultural significance. The documentary caused me to think about the kind of homes and communities these white students leveling racial attacks against fellow black students come from, the discussions that take place (maybe around the dinner table or the braai stand) by their families and friends about black people.and that maybe the enviroment they have grown up under is now expressing itself. This behaviour looks to me like it's entrenched in the backgrounds of these students. This is what needs to be delt with. The language policy can be changed and all kinds of intervations can be implimented but the racisist will remain a racisist. I just need to stress that I don't believe that the whole town is racisist but I believe that some people in the town are racisist. This has spilt into the university and I believe that if it's not dealt with it will keep on raising it's ugly head. US has a responcibility to be in the forefront of addressing these issues even in the town. It can be a way of actively contributing towards transformation and reiterating their commitment to redress. Prof. Wim de Villiers, with all due respect, a defencive stance to this issue will not bring recourse.
EtienneEtienne2015-08-26T04:21:37ZEarlier this year I enquired through various university structures (including the rector) why the University Museum is still referred to as the "Eben Dönges Centre (SASOL Art Museum)" in several university publications, despite the fact that the name Eben Dönges Centre is supposed to have fallen into disuse in 1991. Nobody could give me a straightforward answer, and nobody could tell me that this problem was going to be fixed. By the way: Under Eben Dönges's watch as the first apartheid-era Minister of the Interior, laws were introduced that required South Africans to be classified according to their race; to live in segregated "group areas"; to go to prison if they had sex with someone from another race; and to use separate public amenities (like busses, parks, beaches, etc.). He also flat out subverted the rule of law by rejecting a ruling from the Apellate Court in 1956 that forbade the government from removing the voting rights of Coloureds already registered on the Cape voters' roll. Astonishingly, he did this by forcing a High Court of Parliament Bill into law that turned parliament into its own court that could override rulings of the Apellate Court. After all of these achievements, Stellenbosch University awarded him an honorary LL.D. in 1959 and also appointed him as university chancellor from 1959 until his death in 1968.
Bernadette BuleBernadette Bule2015-08-26T13:49:46ZVC i appeal to you to not only act on the Luister - Open Stellenbosch - due to the media attention received. But as a human being truely sympathize with the the experiences of these students. This is deeper than simply maintaining a corporate image, it is a heart issue and dealing with it will require some heart and ampathy, beyond just a job requirement.
HE Koornhof HE Koornhof 2015-08-27T09:37:48ZThank you very much and congratulations for putting together this comprehensive response! I wish you well with the many new initiatives that currently launched to address these issues!
DineoDineo2015-08-27T23:26:09Zwhy is it that the statement says nothing about the language policy? which from my opinion is the biggest issue the students are raising! what is going to be done about that??????
MonicaMonica2015-09-01T11:35:32ZRacism is taught, it is never born - I agree, but where is it taught? Not at a university or in schools. It is taught at home, by parents. This whole issue should be a wake-up call for parents.