This year, 25 July marked the official day that Stellenbosch University (SU) commemorated Mandela Day. The Division for Social Impact, Transformation Office, Human Resources Employee Wellbeing, The Language Centre, Student Communities and The Student Representative Council invited the Stellenbosch University staff and student community to reflect, participate and partner, in the call to action for Nelson Mandela International Day 2023 was “Climate, Food and Solidarity".
At Stellenbosch University our efforts extend far beyond just 67 minutes on Mandela Day, and in particular this year we aimed to emphasize the need for sustainable food environments on our campus and the vital connection between staff and student wellbeing and active citizenship.
A significant priority for the university centres around food security:
“At Stellenbosch University (SU) we believe that no student should be burdened with the stress of food insecurity and for this reason, the University has implemented long-term and sustainable food security programmes that can be accessed by all students" (Stellenbosch University, 2023). The morning included a few addresses by staff and students from the Division for Social Impact, Centre for Student Counselling and Development and the Student Representative Council which highlighted the critical need for sustainable food environments and well-being and shared how we need to collectively prioritise these vital needs within our student community in order to positively impact our communities and society in transformative ways.
Director Centre for Student Counselling and Development, Charl Davids shared that food insecurity was highlighted during the COVID pandemic period when we saw growing queues in different communities all over South Africa. This is an important social justice issue that affects not only Stellenbosch University but all Higher Education Institutions. We therefore need a collective approach to dealing with it, that is sustainable and ensures that no student goes hungry. The approach we adopt should ensure the dignity of every student and never let a student in need feel that they are parading their poverty.
SRC Chairperson, Masilo Silokazi spoke about Victoria Street's significance and the Dream Walk for every student and how this street can come to represent a loss of potential success and the realisation of your aspirations when you are a student suffering academic obstacles due to food insecurity, housing challenges, or financial troubles. After consultation with other universities across the sector, it was noted that more could be done institutionally at SU to alleviate food insecurity. One option shared was to establish fresh produce gardens run by SU employees and students. The aim should be to make it a challenge that each faculty contribute to the garden in a way that utilises skills students learn in classes. Making use of the faculties assures the initiative's longevity and sets a collective responsibility on all students to contribute to changing SU.
SRC Student Wellness and Student Leadership Development Portfolio, Prince Qengqa reflected on what the lived experiences are of students to provide the necessary support for relief and shared that what is needed is to work together, what is needed is solidarity and what is needed is to protect human dignity.
Dr Jerome Slamat, from the Division for Social Impact highlighted that students have reminded us that we have a joint responsibility to ensure that the talent that is at SU has a chance to be realised and that the dreams shared at the SU DreamWalk come true here in Matieland. Even the most talented minds cannot operate on an empty stomach.
Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, Dr Leslie van Rooi, shared that the Mandela Day efforts at SU have moved away from a let's do good so that we feel good for 67 minutes, to something more meaningful and it is the understanding that this is what we should do always but specifically also as a reminder to us of what should happen.
Deputy Director Social Impact, Renee Hector-Kannemeyer shared that at Stellenbosch University, student and staff well-being is essential to promote academic success, personal development, and a thriving campus community. Therefore, responding to the reiterative appeals of students to address food insecurity from a structural perspective will go a long way towards enabling a transformative student experience for all Maties.
The Mandela Day programme was well supported by both staff and students. The atmosphere of the eminent Endler foyer was filled with a range of activities including live music, a coffee and pancake station, health screening stations for important health assessments, massage booths (Hand, Shoulder and Head) to rejuvenate our senses and a Co-Create Hub voucher.
On the upper floor of the Endler foyer all the items that were collected from various faculties, departments, environments and individuals were displayed. This included a total of 145 Boxes containing non-perishable foods and toiletries, 67 Bags filled with non-perishable foods and toiletries and books and 7 blankets.
Our efforts this Mandela Day contribute towards providing much-needed support and relief. A total of 124 boxes of non-perishables and toiletries were distributed to the various residences and environments through student Social Impact leaders. A total of 21 boxes, 67 bags and 7 blankets were provided to the office of Ms Lizzy Witbooi, social worker at the Centre for Student Counselling and Development, who is often the first point of contact for students in need. To ensure that the Legacy Lives on several Mandela Day engagements throughout the month of July included a Sandwich Drive, a thought-provoking Mandela Day Lecture, a knitting circle, pantry drive, restoration and renovations, celebrity cooking and a debate tournament.
Click here to view the Mandela Day 2023 video: https://youtu.be/Kw6PrmncQKI?si=_h03VkfkjWhE0rOR