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Staff and students shared lived experiences at SU Transformation Indaba 2022
Author: Awethu Fatyela
Published: 30/11/2022

“Restitution beyond rhetoric" was the theme of the 2022 Transformation Indaba that was hosted by the Stellenbosch University (SU) Transformation Office on Thursday 20 October 2022 at Stias on Stellenbosch. SU students and staff from various faculties and environments attended the indaba.

In their presentations, members of the rectorate and student leadership commented on where SU stands in terms of the University's transformation journey, provided feedback on progress with regards to transformation projects and goals, and shared their personal experiences.

Speakers also reflected on the SU Restitution Statement, it's fundamental meaning and what responsibility it places on not only the institution but every individual who is part of the SU community.

In his keynote address, Prof Chris Brink, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of SU from 2002-2007, explained how it is imperative that we shed light of the historical need to transform SU. He said that transformation at SU would have to be based on a change of consciousness. Speaking from his experience as former Rector of SU, Prof Brink implored the current leadership to give sincere consideration into the meaning of words and symbols. He said SU needs to reflect critically on the restitution statement and consider carefully what specific restitution is on offer.

Prof Brink asked: “The SU Restitution Statement states that SU 'apologise unreservedly to the communities and individuals who were excluded from the historical privileges that SU enjoyed'. But what about those who are excluded today?"

In a session moderated by Ms Ellen Tise, Senior Director: Library and Information Services and a member of the Institutional Transformation Committee (ITC), members of the rectorate gave presentations under the theme “Accelerating transformation – narratives from the rectorate".

Speaking on SU's commitment to transformation, Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor said: “We will never end the transformation process. Since the advent of democracy, SU has been in a process of transformation, and we are resolute in our commitment to this. Change is imperfect and incomplete, but we are resolute."

Prof De Villiers quoted from the speech that Prof Thuli Madonsela, Law Trust Chair in Social Justice at SU and former Public Protector of South Africa, delivered at the annual Russel Botman Memorial Lecture, celebrating the life of Prof Russel Botman, former SU Rector, and his vision for educational justice. She said that if we are to live together, we must be mindful of each other's humanity. “It is impossible to constantly police the actions of everyone in the community, but we ought to do whatever it takes to safeguard the humanity of each individual," Prof De Villiers said.

Masilo Silokazi, SRC Chairperson for 2022/2023, and Neo Kgodisang, a student in visual arts, talked about student perspectives through the exploration of the concept of belonging. Masilo opened her speech with a rendition of Zamajobe's “Ndawo Yami", a song that speaks about belonging and a place to call one's own. Neo played a video of students sharing their experiences and perspectives about “belonging" at SU.

During the session “Lived experiences at SU", Prof Ronelle Carolissen from the Department of Psychology, delivered a speech called “Reflections on the Khampepe Report: staff perspectives". She said the sentiments among staff members (of colour) is that the Khampepe Report would not reveal anything about SU that is not already known. While the University may have progressive rules and policies, it is not enough to protect people of colour from racism when there are too many micro-aggressions on a daily basis. Prof Carolissen recommended that SU should have ongoing engagements about the findings of the Khampepe Commission, especially about daily and ongoing institutional racism (and its intersections) and conduct detailed research about the experiences of racism of students and staff and its intersectionalities. She said the University should try to understand why these details are not picked up in internal institutional culture surveys. How are the surveys constructed? Are surveys the most effective method?

In wrapping up the indaba's proceedings, Dr Zethu Mkhize, Head of the SU Transformation Office, provided an update on the first draft of the SU Transformation Policy, the feedback received and the impact this will have on the Institutional Transformation Plan. Dr Mkhize also provided feedback on the monitoring and evaluation framework that will be used as a metric to gauge the rate at which transformation is being implemented at all levels and serve as a monitoring tool which tracks institutional progress with regards to the five transformation indicators that have been established, namely:

  • An increased racial diversity amongst senior academics and senior professional administrative support services (PASS) staff;
  • A diverse student population;
  • Transformation competencies;
  • Universal access; and
  • An academic renewal programme.

The Transformation Indaba provided staff and student leaders with the opportunity to openly share their lived experiences in the institution, some of the challenges and roadblocks they have encountered and their expectations going forward. Presentations from the rectorate on their transformation initiatives and goals within their immediate responsibility centres were also welcomed.

Stellenbosch University Restitution Statement (as announced in 2018 during SU's centenary year)

Stellenbosch University (SU) acknowledges its inextricable connection with generations past, present and future. In the 2018 Centenary year, SU celebrates its many successes and achievements. SU simultaneously acknowledges its contribution towards the injustices of the past. For this we have deep regret. We apologise unreservedly to the communities and individuals who were excluded from the historical privileges that SU enjoyed, and we honour the critical Matie voices of the time who would not be silenced. In responsibility towards the present and future generations, SU commits itself unconditionally to the ideal of an inclusive world-class university in and for Africa.