National

Maties residence offers apology for apartheid wrongs

Glynnis Underhill

Students from the Dagbreek men's residence at Stellenbosch University have offered an unusual apology to the country for its involvement in apartheid.

Dagbreek residence house committee members (from left) Pieter Le Roux, Jacobus Toua, Patrick Zangwa & Sybrand Engelbrecht on the residence's official truck. (David Harrison, M&G)

An apartheid motion committee they set up has unearthed information confirming that students from Dagbreek attacked people and their homes in "coloured and black communities" in a violent act of repression in 1939, and afterwards refused to hand in their weapons to the government.

The Dagbreek residents said they assumed responsibility for the events of the past and the residence's involvement, and wished to apologise on behalf of the institution "for our disobedience and lovelessness that led to our actions". 

The students believe these incidents could have created a platform for future politicians such as former National Party prime ministers Hendrik Verwoerd and John Vorster to legitimise apartheid theology.

"No healing and no restoration will happen if we don't seek forgiveness and apologise for apartheid," said the current head student or "primarius" of the residence, 22-year-old Pieter Nel. 

Both Verwoerd and Vorster were housed at Dagbreek, formally known as the John Murray house, and also held leadership positions at the residence during their student lives. 

Verwoerd, who was prime minister from 1958 until his assassination in 1966, was widely regarded as the man behind the conception and implementation of apartheid. His successor was John Vorster, who had gained a reputation for rigid enforcement of apartheid policies as a minister, and went on to become president of the country. 

Taking responsibility
The committee led by Nel has delved into the history of the 91-year-old residence, and contacted the Mail & Guardian to say Dagbreek wanted to apologise and take responsibility for its role in apartheid.

During a solemn interview with students at the residence, Nel said the review of the residence's past was prompted by a need to see restoration in the country. A motion to apologise for its involvement in apartheid was adopted at a house meeting.

"As a house, we decided to call together a committee to do research about this, and our involvement in apartheid. We found a couple of points where we as a house were involved, and for which we need to apologise," Nel said. 

Dagbreek was sometimes given a hard time in the press because of its past, and it needed to right the wrong, he said.

Nel believes that an apology had the power to affect a nation, and "bring forth redemption and restoration in relationships between races".

Students were intensely aware that in order to bridge the past and to welcome the future as an institution, they needed to apologise to those that have been afflicted by apartheid, he said.

Common bond
At 22, Nel recently graduated with an accounting degree and this year started studying industrial engineering at Stellenbosch University. His aspirations are to farm, and not to go into politics, as one would assume on talking to him. 

Sitting on the committee with him is Khayelitsha resident Patrick Zongwa (22) who is studying civil engineering at Stellenbosch University.

Zongwa clearly feels a common bond with his fellow students at the residence on the issue of an apology. The group is earnest about what it wants to do, and was initially reluctant to discuss the issue with the M&G on a more personal level.

"Ever since I came to Dagbreek, I have seen there are a lot of misperceptions out there about what the house is like," said Zongwa. "I have seen that as a house it is really doing a lot to change society. We are brothers in the house and I am doing what I can to change things as well. The white guys are really doing a lot for us, and we can help them too."

Zongwa said he was hoping to teach the students at Dagbreek his home language, isiXhosa, in the near future. Asked if he rejected leaders like Verwoerd and Vorster, Zongwa said he did not write them off as people.

"While Hendrik Verwoerd and John Vorster did things I don't agree with, we are ready to move forward," he said.

Inspired
The students said they had been inspired by the actions of former security minister, Adriaan Vlok, who they met last week after  he gave a talk in Cape Town about apologising for apartheid actions.

Prominent South African clergyman Frank Chikane survived a murder attempt in the 1980s, and has spoken out about how he had his feet washed by Vlok in a gesture of contrition. 

Although Vlok testified to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and received an amnesty for his apartheid involvement, he is still asking for forgiveness for his apartheid actions.

After seeing how humbling it had been for Vlok to apologise, the committee at Dagbreek has now taken the plunge. 

In a laminated statement, which the students handed the M&G, they said that they wanted to apologise for an incident during the weekend of July 28 and 29 1939. This was when residents of Dagbreek were participants in the violent clashes in Andringa Street, which they said was "an attempt to repress and subordinate members of the black and brown communities".

"During the clash, the students not only attacked the people but also their houses. They broke windows, entered homes, smashed crockery and glasses and destroyed furniture and radios, causing people to flee their homes. Looking back, this violent behaviour can be regarded as a precursor to apartheid's structural violence by way of forced removals from mixed areas, racial classification, the ban on mixed marriages and the immorality act."

Looking back
The Dagbreek committee found that, after the incident, residents had refused to hand their weapons in to the government.

"This resistance, together with the student violence, caused a further rift between the Malan and Smuts parties, and created a platform for future politicians such as Mr Verwoerd and Mr Vorster to legitimise the apartheid theology of the governing party."

The residence's apology was an acknowledgement to "the brown and black communities of Stellenbosch", that the students involved in the so-called "clash of Andringa Street" were residents of Dagbreek.

"Also, looking back on our history, we apologise to the black and brown communities in the Republic of South Africa, for our involvement, and that our behaviour reflected the view of the National Party of old, in the forced removals from mixed areas, racial classification, ban on mixed marriages and the Immorality Act."

From now on, the students pledged, they were going to build South Africa, and pledged to provide leadership and direction in all spheres, economic, as well as theological, and to no longer adopt an attitude of apathy towards the Republic of South Africa. 

"We will begin to work actively on a vision and to strongly support and build the country. We adhere to the principles of respect, camaraderie, justice, friendly cooperation, mutual trust and integrity."


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