SU Names Building After Krotoa
The RW Wilcocks building of Stellenbosch University (SU) has been renamed the Krotoa building. This building on the Stellenbosch campus houses the departments of History and Psychology, the Division of Research Development, SU International, the SU Archives, as well as the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology.
Krotoa !Goa/Gõas 'Eva' van Meerhof (1642–1674), of the ||Ammaqua or Water People (Watermans) and the Goringhaiqua, lived at the Cape in the time of Jan van Riebeeck, who came to establish a settlement for the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) at the tip of Africa in 1652. Named “Eva" by the Dutch, Krotoa served as, among others, an interpreter and interlocutor between her people and the VOC.
SU's Executive Committee of Council (EC(C)) approved the renaming at its meeting of 16 August 2021 after the Rectorate received a shortlist of proposals from the Committee for the Naming of Buildings, Venues and Other Facilities/Premises in June. Following extensive debate and taking various aspects into consideration, including Krotoa's complex personal history, the Rectorate proposed the name to the EC(C).
“The name Krotoa is particularly significant now that we are celebrating Women's Month. Apart from a few residences, no SU buildings have previously been named after women," said Dr Ronel Retief, Registrar and chair of the Naming Committee.
“The Rectorate also considered it important that the name, although linked to a historical figure, has symbolic value and, as such, represents more than simply a person. The name Krotoa is not only linked to a woman, but also to an entire underrepresented group of people indigenous to Southern Africa and the area now known as the Western Cape. As such, it acknowledges the heritage of the First Nation people of our region, and we also acknowledge something of our shared and complex history.
“In addition, Krotoa's role as interpreter between different cultural and language groups is a demonstration of bridge building, which is particularly relevant to conversations on multilingualism, inclusivity and creating a mutual understanding between different groups of people," Retief concludes.
“So, with this name, we wish to send a strong message about our commitment to transformation and redress at SU."
Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation, and member of both SU's Visual Redress and Naming committees, adds: “SU acknowledges the role and place of the First Nation people in the broader history of Southern Africa. The significance of linking the name Krotoa to a prominent building on campus should also be understood against the backdrop of ongoing conversations about supporting and formalising Khoekhoegowab language-related courses at SU.
“SU decided in 2019 already to call the new dining hall of Goldfields residence Sada Oms, a Khoekhoegowab term for 'our home'. Therefore, this added symbolic acknowledgement through the Krotoa building forms part of our ongoing partnership and engagement with the First Nation people of Southern Africa.
“Conversations about the name, also with the relevant Khoe structures, gives recognition to Krotoa as an important figure, but does not ignore her complex, tragic history as a person."
Installations contextualising both the Wilcocks and the Krotoa stories are being planned for inside and outside the building.
Back in 2019 already, the Rectorate gave approval for the Registrar and the Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation to follow an institutional and inclusive process for the renaming of the Wilcocks building.
As part of the process, various stakeholders were interviewed. The University also notified more than 100 community organisations and institutions of the planned renaming. These included the Stellenbosch Co-management Forum (including Die Vlakte Forum), Stellenbosch Municipality, the Western Cape Education Department (Stellenbosch), the Stellenbosch Civil Advocacy Network, and the Stellenbosch Ratepayers' Association, all of whom have seats on the University's Institutional Forum.
A call for proposals was distributed among all staff and students as well as members of the community (as represented by the structures serving on SU's Institutional Forum) in July 2020. In October 2020, the Naming Committee, which had been expanded for the purpose of renaming the RW Wilcocks building, agreed on the process to arrive at a short list. The 17 proposals received were subsequently whittled down to the most suitable options, which were presented to the Rectorate.
The Rectorate also requested that the relevant stakeholder groups be approached to determine whether there would be any opposition to using the name Krotoa in the context of SU. Keen support for the use of the name was expressed by the relevant leaders and representatives of the First Nations structures.
A date for the unveiling of the new name is yet to be determined. In the meantime, SU's new Visual Redress Policy will serve before Council for approval in September.
The RW Wilcocks building was opened in 1966 and named after Prof Raymond William Wilcocks, who was Rector of the University from 1935 to 1954.
The renaming of the RW Wilcocks building forms part of a long-term and extensive visual redress process on SU's campuses in an attempt not only to remove certain symbols, but also to introduce new visual symbols that point to a shared history, our diverse stories, and public spaces that are welcoming to all.
This process was launched a few years ago, and much progress has been made in recent years to create student and staff-friendly living and work spaces that meet the needs of a diverse group of students, staff and other stakeholders, and at the same time promote a welcoming campus culture.
The performance of Prof Sylvia Vollenhoven's play Krotoa: Eva van die Kaap at the 2022 Toyota SU Woordfees resonated with Stellenbosch University's renaming of the RW Wilcocks Building to the Krotoa Building in 2021. It allowed learners, students, teachers and academics to not only better understand the person that was Krotoa but also to get a better understanding of her story as well as the rationale behind the said renaming process.
With the play as backdrop, Khoisan Chief Hendrik van Wyk visited the Stellenbosch campus as part of the continuous engagement linked to the contextualisation of the Krotoa Building.
This engagement process is guided by the Stellenbosch University (SU) Visual Redress Policy and brings together various internal and external stakeholders to deliberate on the story, legacy and impact of Krotoa on our academic disciplines, our research and our visual landscape, among others. It therefore is an open, public process that allows for input from various sectors and voices.
The October gathering in the Krotoa Building was attended by Khoisan leaders, representatives from various community forums based in Stellenbosch, as well as staff and students from SU and other universities. It marked the next phase of public engagements that will in the end lead to the scheduled ceremonial opening of the Krotoa Building that will be guided by ritual processes of the Khoisan.
“A university can never become a place where you stop learning," said Dr Leslie van Rooi. “In the words of Chief Van Wyk this morning: 'Nothing is static. You must move. You must change.' And that is not to say that you leave a part of what you are, but it is to say that you can eventually become yourself, find your fuller being.
“Finally, after so many years of pushing itself away from its historic being, our University is slowly but surely moving into itself … realising itself, becoming a national asset, universal and also local, engaged, sharing its stories through the cracks of its history, allowing something new to be realised."
The ceremony also included a mesmerising rendition of Khadija Tracey Heeger's poem “Krotoa" by the poet herself; a typically thought-provoking address by SU's Prof Aslam Fataar, who recently spoke at the 3rdInternational Social Justice Conference; as well as a keynote address by Prof June Bam (University of Cape Town), who spoke of the value of indigenous knowledge that is still echoing through women today.
“Our role, as far as I'm concerned," said Bam, “is to bring Krotoa back in a way that shows how she was the multilingual diplomat – and a peacemaker."
Krotoa was mentioned more than 200 times in the early Cape Archives – mainly in the diaries, journals, and letters of the VOC Commanders Jan van Riebeeck and Zacharias Wagenaer, but those were just footnotes to her full story, which Vollenhoven is currently rediscovering and sharing in collaboration with the first nations people and the broader South African society.