Stellenbosch University (SU) concluded its last graduation week of the year on 13 December 2019 with a Chancellor's Luncheon, held at its Goldfields Residence for the first time.
“It is hugely symbolic that this event – a highlight on the University's calendar – is taking place here. This residence was built in 1987 to accommodate black, coloured and Indian students because at that time the Group Areas Act was still in place, and they could not be accommodated with white students on the rest of campus. It's hard to believe, but that's how it was under apartheid," SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers told the audience.
The Chancellor's Luncheon is held twice a year for new recipients of the University's honorary doctorates, PhDs, Chancellor's Medal and Chancellor's Awards. At its December graduation ceremonies, SU again awarded a record number of qualifications – 5 857 degrees, diplomas and certificates, including 154 PhDs, of which 50% were awarded to black African, coloured, and Indian students.
“Access to the University and all its residences has long since been opened in full, and I am glad to say that we have an ever more diverse and integrated student body and also staff body here at SU today, although it remains a work in progress. But this residence deserves recognition as an important role-player milestone on our journey towards inclusivity," Prof De Villiers said.
“Through the years, it accommodated many students who would go on make their mark in society – is illustrious 'Goldies' like our own Prof Mohammad Karaan and Dr Leslie van Rooi, Francois Groepe, who served on the Reserve Bank' board of directors for 14 years, actress June van Merch, and the Springbok rugby player Breyton Paulse, to name just a few.
“The first residence head was Prof Willie Esterhuyse, who would play an important role in South Africa's political transition as a facilitator in the negotiations phase before there were official talks. One of the stories told of those days, is that Prof Esterhuyse received Thabo Mbeki here. Of course, the students heard about it, and also got the opportunity to speak to the man who would later become South Africa's President.
“A residence head who came later was Pieter Kloppers, who is still in Student Affairs to this day. And he credits his experience here at Goldfields with giving him hope for the future, and with laying the foundation for much of the innovative work done in Student Communities."
Prof De Villiers also pointed out some of the challenges experienced by Goldfields residents.
“Those who stayed here as students in those days also remember the feeling of being marginalised and isolated here on the edge of campus, even ostracised and discriminated against. We have to own up to that, as we admitted in our Centenary year in 2018 that there were mistakes in our history. For this we have deep regret."
The Chancellor's Luncheon took place in Goldfields' new dining hall, which has been in use since the start of the year.
“The residence decided to name it 'Sada Oms', a Khoisan phrase meaning 'Our House'," Prof de Villiers explained. In an earlier interview, the current Residence Head, Renee Hector-Kannemeyer, told Matie Media the name “speaks to transformation and honouring first nations".
“So, welcome here in Sada Oms, our house, in Goldfields, our residence, at Stellenbosch University, which belongs to everyone, not to any particular group," Prof De Villiers concluded.
Commenting on the event, Van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation at SU, said, “I cannot begin to express how significant Friday's Chancellor's luncheon was. I'm very sure that it will also be true for the old Goldies. To think that the community on the outskirts of campus (more than just in terms of its physical location) became the centre of our University community really was a deeply symbolic act."
TOP: Arriving at Stellenbosch University's Chancellor's Lunch at Goldfields Residence, from left to right, Prof Wim de Villiers, Dr Ronel Retief, Prof Ronelle Carolissen, Prof Linus Opara, Prof Usuf Chikte, Ms Ellen Tise and Mrs Masoodah Chikte.