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Navigating Action-based Relational Transformation: Insights from SU's 2023 Transformation Indaba
Author: Cindy van Niekerk
Published: 13/12/2023

The Transformation Indaba is an annual event that presents an opportunity for the Stellenbosch University (SU) community to engage collectively on matters of transformation and assess progress. Hosted by the SU Transformation Office on Thursday, 19 October 2023, at the Protea Hotel in Stellenbosch, the 2023 Indaba focused on "Action-based relational transformation." Attended by SU students and staff from various faculties, the event aimed to foster collaboration and reflection.

In his welcoming speech, Prof Nico Koopman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel, emphasised SU's commitment to translating its transformative vision into tangible actions, stressing the importance of moving beyond thoughts and words. Highlighting unity, he invoked the theme's intention and the University's slogan, "forward together," as a call to collaborative action.

Prof Grace Khunou, Director of Transformation at UNISA, delivered the keynote address, exploring the intersection of action, relationality, and transformation within SU and South African higher education. Reflecting on historical legacies and opportunities for learning at SU, she urged the audience to find inspiration despite complexities. Addressing global challenges like racism, she proposed solutions through curricular transformation and dialogue, emphasising values and commitment to action-based relational transformation.

The second session of the Indaba comprised two plenary sessions. The initial plenary featured three speakers who conducted a thorough and reflective exploration of pivotal aspects influencing the transformative journey at Stellenbosch University. Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching, delved into institutional culture and climate, highlighting their profound relevance to SU's commitment to transformation. Dr Handri Walters, a lecturer in social anthropology, provided a nuanced exploration of the University's historical context, while Prof Nuraan Davids, Professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies, addressed the theme of "Intimate Difference," delving into the complexities of transformation, particularly within the post-apartheid South African context.

The second plenary, adopting a unique approach, featured a dynamic conversation among three key speakers: Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd, Senior Researcher at the Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest (AVReQ); Fanelesibonge Ndebele, Event Project Manager at the Centre for Social Justice; and Dr Jill Ryan, Coordinator of Gender Non-Violence at the Equality Unit. The central theme focused on the practical realisation of the Restitution Statement.

In the third session, participants engaged in breakaway sessions, organised into four groups to discuss the topics of E-CARE Values, The Stellenbosch 'DNA,' Unconscious Bias, and Institutional Culture vs. Climate. Within these sessions, attendees participated in discussions about the current state of these subjects, envisioned aspirations, and extracted key takeaway messages for the institution. The design of these sessions aimed to cultivate dialogue, elicit feedback, and enrich the understanding of crucial transformation-related issues.

Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, summarised the Indaba, highlighting its evolution and significance for SU. As the seventh in the series, this year's Indaba served as a crucial platform for reflecting on progress, challenges, and aspirations.

Dr van Rooi expressed gratitude to organisers and participants for their hard work and dedication, emphasising the platform's value for critical reflection and reshaping the institution's future. In closing, he reflected on fostering a more inclusive and transformative future for SU.

The Transformation Indaba concluded with a vote of thanks by Prof Ronelle Carolissen.

​​Read the 2023 Transformation Indaba Report here.