‘Stellenbosch is not racist but we do have racists’

The path to a transformed Stellenbosch University was far from finished, nor was it without its problems, Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers told Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education and training on Tuesday.

“Our journey is imperfect, incomplete but we remain steadfast,” said De Villiers.

De Villiers, along with the rest of Stellenbosch University’s management were called before the portfolio committee to respond to allegations of racism made in an online documentary called “Luister” recently.

The 35-minute video has been trending on social media since its release last month.

“I watched ‘Luister’ with my wife … it was uncomfortable and upsetting,” said De Villiers. “I do not enjoy knowing that students – my students – are suffering. It is painful.”

The student movement, Open Stellenbosch, was first to post the film online.

It documented 34 students and a staff member’s accounts of racism on campus. De Villiers said he would not “attempt to defend the indefensible”.

“It’s wrong. Racism, discrimination, human rights violations, exclusion and marginalisation are wrong,” he said.

However, De Villiers pointed out certain “nuances” omitted from “Luister” and in the dialogue that followed thereafter.

Among these, De Villiers said clarification on off-campus incidents had not been made and that Elsenburg, a campus mentioned in the documentary, was in fact not part of Stellenbosch University.

He added that Open Stellenbosch refused to engage with the university and its structures and processes.

De Villiers said despite this, the university was committed to travelling the path set by late rector, Professor Russel Botman.

Part of this was exceeding the department of higher education’s projected student enrolment for 2019. The department projected that white students would make up 56.2% whereas De Villiers said they were aiming for a majority black, coloured, and Indian student body come 2020.

He added that transforming Stellenbosch Univerity’s academic staff was their biggest challenge but that a “Strategic Personnel Fund” would help contribute to change.

De Villiers also stated the university was sorry for its contribution to apartheid but was now focused on progressing the ideals of democracy.

“We are not quite there but we have come a long way,” he said.

“Change is always difficult and I am of the thinking that if change is not uncomfortable … well, then you aren’t doing it right.”

Outgoing student representative council (SRC) chairperson, Stefan Lang, told the committe in his address that the university could not collectively be called racist. 

“Stellenbosch is not racist but we do have racists,” said Lang.

“Our vision is to create a welcoming ethos and anything that is against that must be removed,” he said.

Lang said that although racism was “unequivocally” present at the university, it was “hidden in the corners”. He added that the university community needed to work together to tackle discrimination.

Incoming SRC chairperson Axolile Qina echoed Lang’s final call to action, saying it would be the essence of the new SRC’s term. He added that it was time the university celebrated its commonality, that was its humanity. – ANA

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Put the Veuve on ice – the Bold Women Award...

Now in its 50th year, the Veuve Clicquot Bold Women Award is launching in South Africa for the first time.

Massmart will not be profitable as long as it keeps...

Walmart bought Massmart in 2011 and over the past 10 years the share price of the group has decreased by 80%.

Cartoon: Are we back in the 20th century?

Carlos Amato asks if there's one last way we can regress as a species

The problem with Stalingrad is the cost, not the law

The tragedy is that few of us could afford to brief fine lawyers to fight all the way to the highest courts, but we are all paying for what is playing out on stage

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…