Stellenbosch University (SU) has launched a process to rename the RW Wilcocks Building on its Stellenbosch campus. SU staff, students and representatives of the Stellenbosch community have been invited to participate in the process.
The RW Wilcocks Building was opened in 1966 and named after Prof RW Wilcocks who was Rector of the University from 1935 to 1954.
“The University acknowledges that visual symbols evoke different emotions and experiences amongst people, especially in a diversified and historically divided country like South Africa," says the Registrar, Dr Ronel Retief, who also chairs the standing Committee for the Naming and Renaming of Buildings, Venues and other Facilities/Premises (Naming Committee).
“It is our fervent hope that this long-anticipated renaming process of this prominent building, that also marks the entrance to the Stellenbosch campus on the corner of Ryneveld and Victoria streets, will allow for broad participation towards reflecting the journey of this institution and the surrounding community."
The renaming of the RW Wilcocks Building forms part of a long-term and extensive visual redress process on SU's campuses in an attempt to not only remove offensive symbols, but also to introduce new visual symbols which point to a shared history, our diverse stories and public spaces that are welcoming to all. This process was launched a few years ago and much progress has been made in recent years to create student- and staff-friendly living and work spaces that conform to the needs of a diverse group of students, staff and other stakeholders, and at the same time promote a welcoming campus culture.
“Changing the name of the RW Wilcocks Building is a complex process and one that has been debated by various role-players over the last few months and years," says Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation who also chairs the Visual Redress Committee.
“The University acknowledges the varied viewpoints and opinions of staff, students, alumni and the public about the current name, but at the same time cannot ignore that due to his association to apartheid-related matters and race-based policies and due to his connection to Hendrik Verwoerd, the legacy of Prof Wilcocks is shrouded in controversy. It also cannot ignore the pleas from successive Student Representative Councils and other student movement leaders, as well as staff, to change the name."
Van Rooi adds that there is well-documented criticism from the South African Psychology academic community (Prof Wilcocks's field of expertise) on the current name. “Importantly, the University has over the years received specific requests from the academic disciplines and divisions housed in the building to change the name. These include the Department of Psychology, the Division of Research Development and Stellenbosch University International."
Of real importance is that the University operates in a very specific time and that the current context requires SU to think anew about the names of buildings and symbols, comments Van Rooi. “This was all taken into consideration in taking a decision to start the process of obtaining a new name for the building as guided by the principles of the SU Policy on the Naming of Buildings, Venues and other Facilities/Premises.
“It is of vital importance to name buildings and residences in a way that points to a shared history, that tells our diverse stories and that creates public spaces that are welcoming to all. Renaming the RW Wilcocks Building is an opportunity to expand on this process and to allow for a critical conversation about names and symbols in general."
A call for proposals for a new name was sent to SU staff and students, as well as the community structures represented on the SU Institutional Forum. The closing date for nominations is 26 August 2020.
All nominations, signed by at least 10 staff members, students and/or members of the community structures represented on the Institutional Forum of SU, will be considered by the Naming Committee. Each nomination must also be accompanied by a motivation for the specific name, and may include supporting documents, such as the relevant research, publications or opinion pieces. A shortlist will then be presented to the Rectorate for their consideration. The Rectorate will table the proposed name at the Executive Committee of Council, who is responsible for the final approval.
The current name will be removed from the building sometime over the next few weeks, but will, as was the case in the HB Thom Theatre (now the Adam Small Theatre Complex) be contextualised in the building.
Completed nomination forms should be sent to email@example.com by Wednesday 26 August 2020.
The community structures
Among the 107 community organisations and institutions that the University notified are the Stellenbosch Co-management Forum (including Die Vlakte Forum); Stellenbosch Municipality; the Western Cape Education Department (Stellenbosch); the Council for Church Co-operation in Stellenbosch; the Stellenbosch Civil Advocacy Network and the Stellenbosch Ratepayers Association.
Recent name changes
Some name changes over the last few years include the Coetzenburg Centre (previously the DF Malan Centre), the Stellenbosch University Library (JS Gericke Library), the Adam Small Theatre Complex (HB Thom Theatre), Pieter Okkers House (7 Joubert Street and now named after the first resident, Mr Pieter J.A. Okkers (1875-1952) and Huis Simon Nkoli House (39 Victoria Street).
New residences included Huis Russel Botman House (named after the late Prof Russel Botman), Huis Ubuntu House, Nkosi Johnson House and the Jan Mounton Building (that is under construction).
Other recent projects:
- “The Circle", a bronze art installation featuring 11 phenomenal South African women thought leaders, that was erected on the Rooiplein towards the end of last year.
- Welcome messages in 15 languages have been carved onto benches in public areas on campus, including braille, Sign Language and San.
- A map of Die Vlakte was installed at the entrance of the Arts and Social Sciences building which is built on the grounds were families were evicted under the Group Areas Act in the 1960's.
- The creation of the Lückhoff Living Museum
- Displaying the University's Centenary Restitution Statement at the SU Library
PHOTO: Anton Jordaan