Stellenbosch University's (SU) newly elected student leaders turned up in droves on Sunday morning (4 September) to attend the opening of the #SULeads 2016 annual conference.
Dr Leslie van Rooi speaks at the conference. Photographer: Henk Oets.
The conference, hosted by the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert (FVZS) Institute, "seeks to inspire and empower students to be conscious role-players within their student communities and the greater South Africa". Roughly 1 100 people attended this year's opening event at the Kruiskerk.
Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, discussed the theme of this year's conference: decolonise, re-imagine, co-create.
"There was a time when one could speak of the 'Stellenbosch bubble'. But that time has passed. The 'Stellenbosch bubble' has burst," he said. "That's why #SULeads is so important. Just look at the conference theme: 'decolonise'. It speaks to the very place and role of the university today.
"What does "decolonise" mean in our context?" he asked. "That's what you are here to flesh out. An important element is putting Africa at the centre, not at the periphery – as has been done for centuries. The first part of decolonising is straight forward. It is about 'seeing ourselves clearly' as Africans. To be rooted in Africa means to be firmly connected to our continent and bearing fruit for the benefit of its people.
"I am not saying Stellenbosch University has arrived, we are already the new African university we want to be," Prof De Villiers concluded. "But I am saying part of 'seeing ourselves clearly' means recognising we have made a start. Of course, lots remain to be done."
Read the Rector's full speech here.
Other speakers included Dr Willy Nel from the University of the Free State, FVZS Institute Director Dr Leslie van Rooi and newly appointed Dean of Students, Tonia Overmeyer.
"Seven years ago, this conference started very small. The idea was to get students thinking broader than just the structures and environment that they are in," Dr Van Rooi said. "Today this conference has grown into the largest student leadership conference of its kind in South Africa. It is about re-learning, personal development and dealing with the realities of being a student at Stellenbosch and of course the reality of being a citizen of South Africa."
In a well-received speech, Dr Willy Nel tackled topics ranging from student fees and funding the higher education sector, to decolonisation and the recent controversy surrounding Pretoria Girls' High's code of conduct.
Dr Willy Nel. Photographer: Marcelle van Niekerk.
"Decolonisation is about re-centering our continent. However, re-centering in Africa does not mean that the rest of the world is thrown out," Nel said, with reference to the writing of Achille Mbembe. "If you see what a small part of the world we are – just focusing on our 'South African-ness' will so narrow down our perspective. You are the leaders, you will engage with these issues in depth. I wish you a fruitful conference."