Justice Edwin Cameron, former Constitutional Court judge, was formally installed as Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU) on Wednesday 18 May. The ceremony was held at the Kruiskerk on the University's Stellenbosch campus, and was attended by dignitaries from academia, politics and the broader SU community.
Justice Cameron has been fulfilling his duties as Chancellor since January 2020, but the official installation had to be postponed due to the pandemic. In his inaugural address, he said the past two and a half years had brought him exceptional joy. “First, in interacting with diverse young people on campus – black, white, gay, straight, and from urban and rural places across the country and the continent – Stellenbosch students with the drive and tenacity and purposefulness that give me a burst of hope for this country." In addition, he derived joy from being associated with a university “that is so clearly on the way up" – “up in intellectual output, up in teaching skills, up in research and scholarly publications, up in international renown, up even – though this counts the least – in international ranking". He also spoke of the honour of having presided over SU's graduation ceremonies since 2020, which he described as markedly more exuberant and celebratory affairs than in his student days.
Yet the celebration of Cameron's installation was dampened by the recent incident of alleged racism at Huis Marais on Stellenbosch campus. SU's Students' Representative Council (SRC) opted not to attend the installation. In explaining their decision to Cameron, they said they could not celebrate “when there is so much pain on our campus". Cameron respected their decision “as a matter of deep principle". He said: “They took a stand that was difficult for them, but which expressed their commitment – as we do in our different way this afternoon – to the young people on this campus. Our commitment to something better, our commitment to recognise what we have done wrong, what we have done insufficiently, and our determination to do better."
Cameron as well as the other two speakers at the installation, SU's Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers, and Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, the director-general of the Department of Higher Education and Training, addressed the incident in their speeches. The newly inaugurated Chancellor said that South Africans “deserve a university that is free of the disrespect and hatred and degradation that were manifested in the ghastly incident".
Prof De Villiers, in turn, said that it was with a deep sense of pain that the Chancellor's investiture was being celebrated in a climate that reminded one of the repugnant oppressive practices of a bygone era. “Rest assured that we have taken the appropriate action within the stipulations of our disciplinary code to deal with this matter decisively," the Rector said.
Dr Sishi urged not just the Chancellor, but the entire SU community to work together, rise to the occasion and deal with racism. He said that, in accordance with SU's vision, the University needed to do more to create an inclusive and transformed environment, and to “distance itself from policies of the past". However, Sishi did also mention the progress that had been made, and encouraged SU to maintain the momentum.
Addressing Justice Cameron directly, Dr Sishi said: “Most of the presidents of this country have recognised the contribution you have made to South Africa … you are closely associated with the poor and working class of our country, you have defended the rights of many people in the struggle against racism. You have aligned yourself with the poor and the destitute." Also referring to Cameron's history of defending the underdog, Sishi said: “What more could SU be hoping for to achieve accelerated transformation with someone of Justice Cameron's ilk as Chancellor?"
This was a sentiment echoed by Prof De Villiers, who said: “Part of Justice Cameron's life's work has been ensuring that the dignity of all people remain intact. And we'd do well to use his life's work as an example for the kind of place we want Stellenbosch University to be." He went on to say that Cameron was a “relentless proponent of the protection and promotion of human dignity for all, regardless of colour, race or creed", and embodied SU's values.
Reminding the audience that SU's impact and reach extended far beyond South Africa's borders and across continents, the Rector said: “In Justice Cameron we have an alumnus and a Chancellor who recognises our unique position on the African continent. And one who is willing to go the extra mile to help us achieve our vision."
In answering the question why South Africans should care about the country's universities, Cameron said: “For our own dignity. For our own sense of self-worth as South Africans." The Chancellor said that South Africans deserved outstanding teaching, dedicated learning and world-improving research.
He was escorted to the stage by the praise singer Mandlenkosi Sixolo, who during his praise-singing referred to Cameron's impact in changing people's attitudes with his knowledge and wisdom.
The Stellenbosch Libertas Choir, conducted by Johan de Villiers, also performed during the ceremony. Among others, they aptly sang “Let there be justice for all" from the album
The Peacemakers by Karl Jenkins. The song contains words from a speech by the late president Nelson Mandela, which partly reads: “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that, for each, the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves."
here to view a highlight reel of the
Click on the below links to read the speeches:
Justice Edwin Cameron
Prof Wim de Villiers