The stories of Stellenbosch University (SU) and Stellenbosch town are closely intertwined. Dating back to 1918, SU has been a prominent presence in town and is today one of the anchor institutions of Stellenbosch. This was the message from Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, at a town-and-gown conference hosted by the University from 28 to 30 November.
A first for South Africa, the conference brought together universities from small cities and towns similar to Stellenbosch to discuss matters relating to meaningful campus-city partnerships. The objective of the event, which formed part of SU's Centenary commemorations, was to explore the unique interdependence between the staff, students, faculties and divisions of universities, and the people, businesses and governance structures of the towns and cities in which they are located.
Participants included the universities of Bath, Coventry and Durham in England; the University of St Andrews in Scotland; Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland; Lund University in Sweden; the University of Göttingen in Germany; Queen's University in Canada; KU Leuven in Belgium; Penn State University in the United States, and Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. Delegates were joined by Advocate Gesie van Deventer, Executive Mayor of Stellenbosch, as well as Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.
In his welcome address, Prof De Villiers reflected on SU's 100 years of existence, weaving in stories of growing up in Stellenbosch, the tension between town and gown, relationships between the University and the townspeople, and where the University is heading.
“Earlier this year, we laid the foundation for the second century of the University's existence by adopting a new vision and strategic framework. In that document, we commit ourselves to embrace the communities we serve to bring about social, cultural, environmental and economic development and change."
Prof De Villiers highlighted community engagement initiatives such as the Vlakte Bursary Fund, recounting how residents of the Stellenbosch neighbourhood known as Die Vlakte were forced to relocate elsewhere during apartheid. “What happened then was an injustice – so I am glad that the University later acknowledged its contribution to the injustices of the past and, at the same time, committed itself to redress and development."
Advocate Van Deventer, in turn, spoke about the cooperation between SU and Stellenbosch Municipality, and how the two institutions support each other. In a written message to delegates, she elaborated on the Mayor-Rector Forum, which regularly brings together top management of the two institutions. This serves as a platform to share information, collaborate on projects, and address any challenges that affect them both.
“Stellenbosch Municipality and Stellenbosch University have become synonymous with each other over the past hundred years. It is almost impossible to separate the one from the other, and neither institution would have been successful without the other's support and existence."
Delegates at the town-and-gown conference hosted by the Stellenbosch University.
Photo: Anton Jordaan