The Chairperson highlighted the importance of Stellenbosch University to tertiary education and the necessity of addressing the ‘Luister’ documentary on the institution’s lack of transformation. The Minister reminded everyone about the important duty of accountability that Stellenbosch University had in addressing racism at the university. He pinpointed the need to improve the demographic representativity of the institution and to protect its image, in the light of its international renown. The Department expressed his full support of the University.
The present Rector of Stellenbosch University praised the institution’s academic record and culture of excellence and expressed its condolences for the loss of Rector and Vice-Chancellor Botman in 2014. He indicated the dominant representation of white students (62.2%) and academic staff (73%) and said these figures ought to be addressed by transformation, and the campus culture of inclusion and tolerance. He welcomed the ‘Luister’ video yet warned against its risk of polarisation. Stellenbosch University (SU) transformation achievements were praised albeit also assessed as incomplete.
SU management claimed its societal impact notably though bursary programmes. English and Afrikaans languages were described as being given an equal status in the academic sphere. The total availability of classes in both languages was priced at R74 million excluding organisational and technical costs, while the current situation was over two third of classes being taught in each language, supported by certain mediums of translation and live broadcasting. isiXhosa tuition was pinpointed as being increasingly developed. The different features were set to further improve the institution’s transformation journey.
Memoranda had been received by University management from the Student Representative Council as well as the Open Stellenbosch organisation, and were currently being assessed, prior to the submission of a formal response to students and staff on 17 September 2015. Completely parallel language medium of teaching was pinpointed as the ideal option for the institution. Different mechanisms of transformation were accounted for.
The SU Council was described as committed and entertaining healthy relations with management, to which it aligned itself in the condemning of discrimination and intolerance as well as in the support of the current language policy. It was conceded that Council remained worryingly rigid and not diverse enough as it was overwhelmingly composed of white males.
The Institutional Forum of SU condemned discrimination and emphasised the need for transformation. Its functions were advisory albeit it conceded its partial marginalisation and lack of impact. It organised various forums and discussions.
The Student Representative Council welcomed the ‘Luister’ video and argued that racist incidents were not representative of the whole student population, explaining that SU was not a discriminatory institution. A humanist and tolerant vision of the campus was praised along with the creation of a discrimination office to empirically address the issue.
Members questions included: Do local inhabitants of Stellenbosch contribute to the hindering of transformation? For how long can South Africa afford to have a fully fledged Afrikaans teaching medium in tertiary education? Why have Coloured people been initially excluded from the present narrative on Afrikaans language? How is the University addressing the polarisation phenomenon on campus? Why is the SU delegation almost exclusively composed of white males? What are the precise costs of transformation and multilingualism? Is the University truly and holistically multilingual? Why has this matter been addressed only now that it receives media focus? Why has the position of Dean of Students been removed? What procedure is followed when a student is found guilty of racist behaviour?
Additional concerns were the highly complex nature of the language policy, the narrow selection of African languages to only isiXhosa, potential detriment of Afrikaans tuition to the University’s international competitiveness, long time frames for processing student memoranda, absence of Elsenburg College from the discussion, exclusive male representation of the University’s management, absence of concrete targets in transformation plans,overwhelming representation of white students conflicting with provincial and national demographics, alienating nature of the campus, imbalanced staff representation, potential politicisation of the matter. References were made to the ‘Rhodes must fall’ movement at the University of Cape Town and more consistently to the ‘Open Stellenbosch’ organisation.
The University’s response partially satisfied Members and they emphasised the existing policies as a core vector for transformation. The Rector reiterated the institution’s commitment and determination, and invited Members to visit SU’s campus. Members expressed their faith in the University while encouraging its progress of transformation.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson began the meeting by inviting the Committee and every stakeholder present to close their eyes for prayers and meditation. She concluded this brief reflection by voicing ‘Amen’.
She welcomed the Minister, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) officials, the Rector and management of Stellenbosch University (SU), the media, and the public. Apologies were provided from the Deputy Minister who was on study leave and the SU Council chairperson who had another commitment.
She reminded attending officials that South Africa was presently 21 years into its democracy, and was relying on one of the world’s best constitutions, that was anchored in the Bill of Rights. She mentioned as additional guidelines: the National Plan for Higher Education (NPHE), the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (WPPSET) and the Employment Equity Act (EEA), emphasising that these policies ought to broadly support the education system.
She explained that a cacophony had recently been heard from SU and that the institution’s leadership was naturally requested to provide explanations on the matter at stake. She reminded Members that Stellenbosch University was one of the best universities in the entire country, which now had to decide on what ought to be done in order to move forward. The Minister had been invited in order to provide a Departmental overview to the debate, while notifying him that he should feel free to intervene in the conversation whenever he wished to do so.
She shared with Members that she had sent a letter to SU’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor inviting him to come before Parliament and detail the institution’s transformative strategy. The invitation contained enquiries on whether SU’s leadership was aware of the situation on its main campus and how it intended achieving the required change to end Stellenbosch’s culture of discrimination. She underscored the importance of finding balance between maintaining SU’s remarkable academic performance and challenging the status quo, while she expressed the Committee’s support for SU’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor. SU’s management had demonstrated significant qualities of leadership, yet it now needed to ensure a quality output while maximising each student’s bright future. She described this meeting as ‘our meeting’, urging anyone who wished to intervene in the conversation to do so. She looked forward to engaging in this discussion, which ultimately aimed at moving the nation forward.
Minister of Higher Education and Training opening remarks
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, praised the presence of SU’s senior management and thanked the Chairperson for her invitation. He expressed his desire that meetings similar to this one would occur more frequently. He pointed out that albeit universities were autonomous bodies, they remained accountable entities. He warned Members that the debate should not focus on himself as the Minister but rather on SU and its associated issues, including those highlighted by the ‘Luister’ video.
As he had welcomed the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign, he was appreciative of the ‘Luister’ initiative, commenting that social media was increasingly challenging mainstream media.
The Minister referred to racism in higher education referring to a 2010 quote from Rhodes University (RU) chancellor who had praised the importance of seeking compromises to improve diversity and difference within universities, while he acknowledged their potentially alienating nature.
He mentioned the 2010 case of the University of the Free State, where black workers had been given urine to drink by white students, and stressed that the vice-chancellor of a university should always be held directly accountable for such incidents. He highlighted the necessity of abolishing racism and ensuring the demographically representative nature of student communities. All actors in society should contribute to fighting these discriminatory practices, while the Department emphasised that it would target any case of institutional autonomy that sought to pursue racism.
He reiterated that institutional autonomy could not be used for any other purpose than academic autonomy, while referring to section 6 of the Language Policy for Higher Education which specified the development of diverse academic languages should be ensured as from 2002. Language of tuition should never hinder anyone’s learning process.
He recalled how the late President Nelson Mandela had required his presence with regards to developing the education guidelines of the 1996 Constitution. He had met with 25 different Afrikaner groups, including political parties, who had all required the establishment of an exclusively Afrikaans university, while such requests had naturally been rejected by the African National Congress (ANC).
He argued that one could not be satisfied with the country’s trajectory since its democratisation 21 years ago while stressing that Afrikaans and English should be used equally, along with the constant development by SU of African languages as substantial mediums of tuition. He warned SU delegates not to be swallowed by English imperialism, yet acknowledged the global domination of the English language as a language of media, also spoken by many students on campuses.
He indicated that the Department would hold a seminar on language by the end of the year and revealed the existence of a pattern of consistent complaints originating from former Afrikaans universities across the country. The necessity to carry on with transformation in all 27 tertiary institutions was pointed out.
The Minister had engaged in a private discussion with the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of SU, and that both of them had acknowledged the efforts by the late Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russell Botman.
He insisted on the fact that the Department’s funding formula for universities should strongly promote multiculturalism, thus recommending that the South African university framework address such changes.
The Minister described Stellenbosch University as one of South Africa’s most globally renowned universities and related that during one of his visits to Beijing, the former Chinese ambassador in South Africa had revealed his interest in and willingness to develop a partnership with the university. In the light of this international exposure, he underscored the importance of protecting the entity’s image and status, and preventing ‘Luister’ from deteriorating SU’s reputation. He nonetheless reiterated the need for change, acknowledging that the various conservative interests on which SU relied somehow prevented its transformation.
He expressed his full support of Stellenbosch University on behalf of the Department, reminding its management of the urgent necessity for transforming the University, for it was hardly conceivable that the institution was still dominated by a white majority of students. He argued that the demographic majority of the student body ought to be composed of Coloured students, as a more accurate representativeness of the Western Cape. The fact that 83% of South African Profs were white remained a major issue.
He concluded by expressing his complete faith in the Rector and Vice-Chancellor’s action, highlighting the fruitfulness of Departmental cooperation.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister and invited SU’s management to present.
Stellenbosch University on Luister video on student/staff racism & transformation plan
Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at SU, thanked the Chairperson for the opportunity that he was provided with to engage with stakeholders. He explained that SU had been established in 1918, by what may ironically be seen as the same Parliament Act that had enabled the establishment of the University of Cape Town (UCT). He described SU as a research-intensive university that prided itself on the largest doctorate and masters output in the country. While the entity was composed of 10 academic faculties, he pinpointed as some of the strongest branches: engineering, agricultural science and theology.
In 2015, for the first time, student total enrolment reached beyond 30 000. Within this student head count, 62.2% were categorised as white, while Coloured, black and Indian students respectively accounted for 17.4%, 17.8% and 2.6% of the population. Prof de Villiers however argued that the projected rations by 2019 would be 19.5%, 22% and 2.3% for black, Coloured and Indian learners respectively, thus shrinking the white student community to 56.2%,which would nonetheless remain in broad majority.
Staff demographics revealed even greater disparities, as the academic staff of the institution was composed of 73% white individuals, 17% black, Coloured and Indian academics and 10% international staff members. An investment of R17 million from the Rector personnel investment fund was described as currently ensuring the transformation of staff.
The Rector and Vice-Chancellor described SU’s transformation journey as a historical shift from a formerly white Afrikaans University to a non-racial multilingual national asset. He quoted the institution’s Strategic Framework of 2000, which asserted that ‘the University acknowledged its contribution to the injustices of the past and committed itself to appropriate redress and development initiatives.’ He thus described SU as an inclusive, innovative and future focused entity, promoting discovery and excellence in an environment where both staff and students were thought leaders in advancing knowledge in the service of all stakeholders.
He reiterated SU’s strategic goals of broadening the institution’s accessibility, enhancing its diversity, maintaining its academic excellence and ensuring its social impact and contribution to a brighter future. He argued that SU considered itself as characterised by its inclusivity, sustainability, excellence and transformation, amongst other qualitative features.
Furthermore he addressed the University’s social responsibility through various projects, including the delivery of bursaries to youth from the Die Vlakte community who had suffered forced removal at the time of apartheid. Additional projects included the Kayamandi oral history research project, the ‘Hope@Maties’ project and the African Doctoral Academy. Prof de Villiers indicated that he had only occupied his current position for 5 month, and the initiatives he mentioned all bore the proud legacy of late Prof Botman.
The Rector and Vice-Chancellor referred to the ‘Luister’ video as gut-wrenching, disturbing and raising important issues, as he shared that he had watched it with his wife. He expressed the painfulness resulting from the viewing of these footages and described as indefensible the phenomena of racism, discrimination, human rights violations, exclusions and marginalisation.
He however nuanced his statement by specifying that Elsenburg campus was not part of SU and fell under the Western Cape Government’s mandate, while many incidents had been reported about the campus and were difficult to assess as based on individual perceptions.
He praised unity in the institution and warned against the risks of polarisation associated with the ‘Luister’ video, which could further increase communitarian segregation and divergences. He referred to the Listen, Live and Learn (LLL) communities as ethos of clusters that had contributed to greater cohesion on campus and partly addressed the risks of polarisation.
He expressed the institution’s difficulty to deal with cases of subtle and covert racism, referring to the late Prof Johan Degenaar, known as the Socrates of Stellenbosch, who had vividly challenged apartheid's Calvinist dogma.
Prof de Villiers explained that 21 years into democracy, the so-called ‘born-frees’ had reached maturity, integrated tertiary education institutions and were energetically seeking to bring change. He argued in this regard that he had personally welcomed the ‘Luister’ video. He however argued that the Open Stellenbosch organisation (OS) had allegedly refused to engage into a formal forum organised by the University. The forum was currently examining the proposals provided by OS and the Student Representative Council (SRC) on matters of transformation. He indicated that his colleague would provide Members with greater details on the state of transformation at SU.
Prof Nico Koopman, Acting Vice-Rector on Community Interaction and Personnel at SU, offered his condolences for the loss of Prof Botman, prior to addressing the university’s journey of transformation. He described the latter as having relied on the institution’s Strategic Framework from 2000, as well as on its intent and strategy from 2013. He stated that this transformative path was deeply rooted in certain major internal shifts, from contributions to apartheid to major restitutions, from diverse and apart communities to diverse and yet together groups of students, from exclusion to inclusion, from sole ownership to joint ownership, from an Afrikaans University to a multilingual institution and lastly and perhaps more broadly from a past of division, discrimination and alienation to future of togetherness.
This journey of transformation was however also appraised by the Vice-Rector as incomplete and inherently ambivalent, for progress was often tainted with regressions and positive stories regularly faced tragic narratives. He hence acknowledged the fallibility of transformation that resulted in a process of constant learning, and intrinsically involved long time frames as well as anecdotes of tragedy and pain.
Prof Koopman shared that he had been present at the University of Western Cape (UWC) in 1983 during the creation of the United Democratic Front (UDF), and the ideals of that time were still being promoted actively at university. He emphasised in this regard that Stellenbosch was no exception as it belonged to all who lived in the country. It should rely on three classic vision-fulfilling practices, namely conscience, mobilisation and organisation.
He specified that transformation ought to occur through SU, as a vector towards a South Africa of human dignity relying on healing reconciliation, embracing justice and freedom from oppression and discrimination, and forwarding the liberty of sharing and participating in the goods of society. Transformation at SU was further described as systemic, relying on research, innovation, teaching and learning, and perhaps more significantly as bearing a social impact. The latter features were supported by co-curricular actives that included dialogue forums and LLL houses amongst others, as well as by academic support professional services, while a R70 million funded programme for staff diversification and a similar programme aiming at the diversification of the student body were being implemented, relying on more than R500 million of scholarship investments. Additional attempts to achieve an institutional culture free from discrimination included the current investigation by SU of a potential project that would create a compulsory module for all first years fostering tolerance.
Prof Koopman concluded by reminding Members of the importance of their interaction as well as that of the Department, indicating his keenness to learn from them and to develop a substantial partnership enhancing transformation.
Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, Vice-Rector on Learning and Teaching at SU, spoke about the University’s implementation of its language policy. He explained that Afrikaans’ position as the default tuition language had been changed in 2010, as the result of an extensive consultation process. This change had first occurred at the Engineering faculty that had then been followed by the Economic Department. Afrikaans and English were today being given an equal status, while isiXhosa contributions to the various curriculums were on the rise.
He argued that SU’s policy was aligned with the South African Constitution as well as with the National Development Plan (NDP) and the Language Policy for Higher Education (LPHE). He described the development of an easier access to all of SU programmes, particularly for black, Coloured and Indian students, as well as the availability of studies in student’s preferred language to the extent possible; the enforcement of multilingualism that celebrates diversity; and finally the appointment of lecturers for their expertise irrespective of their language.
With regards to the eventuality of developing a parallel medium instruction and lecture interpretation, Prof Schoonwinkel warned that the process could further divide different student groups along demographic and linguistic lines, yet he described this process as an ideal option particularly applicable during initial study years, where lecturers would teach in the language of their choice while the University would ensure each module’s availability in 100% English and 100% Afrikaans tuitions. He detailed this suggestion by highlighting that the current cost of language implementation was R37 million per annum, while the cost of a full mixed model implementation would cost of R74 million per annum, excluding facilities’ associated costs.
The LPHE of 2002 was described as allowing the position of Afrikaans as a language of scholarship and science, as well as a national resource, as specified in article 15.5. The advancement of other South African languages as academic languages was related to article 16, and ought to rely on the Department of African Languages and the Language Centre. SU’s language policy was thus echoing fully with the summary of the LPHE, detailed through article 21.
Prof Schoonwinkel stated with regards to SU’s language specifications and implementation that the University’s panel of options presently included parallel medium teaching that was appropriate for groups of more than 250 students, Afrikaans lectures with English interpreters and English lectures with Afrikaans interpreters, which both seemed appropriate to classes of less than 250 students according to the management.
In terms of the modules offered by the University, it was calculated on the basis of their respective importance to the various curriculum that 50.3% of SU’s courses were based on the so-called ’T option’ where the use of Afrikaans and English was in approximately equal proportions in class, yet only 13% of modules were offered in the parallel medium teaching described above. The current overlapping shares of the language in the broad tuition programme was estimated for the year 2016 at respectively 65.2% and 66.8% for Afrikaans and English, while the University target was of 75% for each language by the year 2020.
With regards to students’ requests and demands, Prof Schoonwinkel said that memoranda from OS and the SRC had been received on 13 May 2015 and 14 May 2015. A task team had been convened and had met for the first time on 4 June 2015 to discuss these submissions. A process of investigation publicised through the Rector’s email had begun 20 days after the first meeting, and ought to culminate in the submission of a formal response to students and staff on 17 September 2015 as well as the tabling of the report at SU’s council on 29 September 2015.
The task team had thus far identified as an issue the use of the term ‘safeguard’ in the University’s policy, which had been interpreted by certain stakeholders as maintaining the privileged status of Afrikaans and as being exclusionary. Considerations on how to rephrase the language policy were hence encouraged. Additional findings included the lack of genuine commitment to the development of isiXhosa, and suggested a stronger development of basic communication skills, the emphasis on career specific communications in health science and education, and the need to highlight general academic and administrative terminologies in each faculty. Parallel Medium of Teaching was encouraged, although lecturer availability, classrooms, timetables and module combinations were pinpointed as potential constraints. The task team further recommended the compilation of a set of guidelines and good practice examples of ’T-option’ implementation to share amongst faculties, aiming at facilitating learning during contact sessions using dual medium of instruction. An example of the ’T-option’ as a dual medium of teaching was found in the case of a lecture where both the introduction and the conclusion were given in Afrikaans, while the actual core of the lecture was shared in English, with the overarching option of a live recording translated podcast in Afrikaans. With regards to the various complaints on the inaudibility, ineffectiveness and discriminatory nature of the live podcasting of classes, the task team recommended the improvement of lecturer-interpreter interactions as well as a detailed technical investigation on alternative technologies and classrooms’ suitability.
Prof Schoonwinkel explained that a SU survey had revealed that 74% of students either agreed or completely agreed with the system of interpretation than relying on live podcasting. The relevance of this survey was however challenged by its poor capacity of generalisation as only 263 students had been interrogated. Additional suggestions included a greater diversification of the learning process, referring for instance to online tuition, smaller tutorials, greater group contexts and project based learning. The task team indicated that it was seeking to address the poor monitoring of language policy implementation in class by enhancing the effectives of feedback and response systems, notably though the restructuring of class representative systems and the increased rapidity of corrective actions by departmental chairs. In terms of students’ failure resulting from tuition in Afrikaans, an investigation was described as currently being undertaken to improve methods mitigating lack of academic literacy in both English and Afrikaans, while the existence of various support programmes was pointed out, including those of the faculties, the different clusters and the language centre amongst others.
Prof Schoonwinkel said that SU had managed to tackle socio-economic barriers through co-curricular programmes, residence placement and bursaries; to address school-linked inequalities on the basis of tutor and mentor programmes as well as extended degrees; and to challenge language barriers by relying on agents such as the writing or the reading laboratory. The task team stated that it had investigated the feeling of exclusion resulting from the domination of the Afrikaans language on campus, and indicated that it was considering mechanisms to ensure that no students would be excluded from meetings and orientation sessions on this basis.
Prof Schoonwinkel concluded by assuring Members that their input would be welcomed in a spirit of mutual responsibility and co-ownership, while he invited them and Department officials to visit SU’s campus.
The Chairperson thanked the SU delegation for its substantial input. Due to time constraints, she urged the following presenters to shorten their contribution and to avoid providing too many details.
Presentation by the Council of Stellenbosch University
Prof Pieter Willem van der Walt, Vice-chairperson of the Council of Stellenbosch University (CSU), thanked the Chairperson and shared with Members that the University and its Council entertained an excellent relationship and were working hand in hand.
He described the CSU as often developing interesting discussions and it was blessed with the commitment of its members, for its attendance rate was 90%. The Council had developed effective channels of communication with the management, which it also held accountable. He emphasised CSU’s total alignment with the university’s condemning of racism and segregation, while it was fully supportive of SU’s language policy.
SU was ranked in the top three best tertiary institutions nationally and continentally, while it belonged to the 1.5% best higher education entities in the world. He prided SU with the highest pass rate for South African students, and highlighted the extraordinary large percentage of black South African graduates. The campus was described as dynamic and well maintained, as recent investments had been made to ensure the upkeep of its infrastructure.
However, Prof van der Walt conceded that the Council remained worryingly rigid and displayed a major lack of diversity. His recommendation was that the Minister appoint five new Council members.
Presentation by the Institutional Forum at Stellenbosch University
Mr Le Roux Burrows, chairperson at the Institutional Forum (IF) of Stellenbosch University, indicated that he would shrink his presentation along the Chairperson’s guidelines, to enable both chairpersons of SU’s SRC to make their contribution to the debate. He indicated, similarly to his colleagues, that IF condemned any form of discrimination and he argued that effective transformation intrinsically ought to create discomfort amongst a majority of individuals.
He referred to Act 101 of 1997 as the amended mandate of the IF whose function was an advisory one. He detailed that the forum was composed of a total of 32 members who equally originated from government and management, from the university’s staff, from the student population and from the community. The latter sector was composed of two members of the convocation as well as of six persons appointed by bodies representative of civic society.
He conceded that IF had been marginalised in the past year while stating that it could, and perhaps more importantly should, seek to bear a greater impact on students’ life at Stellenbsoch. He acknowledged that IF was not aggressive enough.
With regards to IF’s role in transformation, he described the facilitation of debates and discussions in an open and inclusive manner. He indicated that the forum was currently working on the development of a strict code of conduct that aimed at curbing discriminatory practices.
Input by Chairpersons of Stellenbosch University Student Representative Council (SRC)
Mr Stefan Laign, outgoing chairperson of the SRC, said that the SRCl was welcoming of the ’Luister’ video that had further pinpointed the need for unification of the campus. The video had highlighted a phenomenon that unfortunately was also a reality at the national and global levels, that of racism.
He explained to Members that transformation had been of the priority to the SRC under his mandate, while he indicated that racist incidents were not representative of the majority of the student community. Amongst the initiatives undertaken in the past year he pinpointed the request for a position of Dean of Students as well as the creation of a discrimination office. He additionally referred to the hosting of forums favouring discussions, while he apologised for the absence of any document to support his intervention. He told Members that substantial documentation on the matter would shortly be forwarded to them.
He emphasised that SU was not a racist University per se, but rather a University with some racist people within it. He concluded by stressing that, although enough would never be done to tackle this issue, the student community would still strive to eradicate racism.
Mr Axolile Qina, incoming chairperson of the SRC, pinpointed the importance of collective efforts as part of the process of ensuring inclusivity. He thus argued that each ‘Matie’ should be included in processes that sought inclusion on campus.
He described racism as the denial of individuals’ collective identity. He assured Members that the discrimination office would open shortly, while the SRC would ensure its accountability and effectiveness. He praised the relevance of value-driven leadership, notably as a component of the utmost necessity to socially deconstruct apartheid.
He highlighted the relevance of OS and ‘Afriforum’ associations and their capacity to raise important issues. He reminded the Committee of the importance of transforming Stellenbosch and its University. The latter evolution ought to occur through a re-conceptualisation of the leadership as well as an ensured mind-shift that will enhance students’ awareness of their social responsibilities on campus.
He quoted Mr Martin Luther King Junior’s famous statement: ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ He argued that the time to achieve Mr King’s vision had come. He lastly shared with Members an additional quotation that further detailed his perspective, as he read the following Kenyan proverb ‘peace is costly, but it is worth the expense.’
The Chairperson said Members could question SU’s senior leadership. She emphasised that this might be the only opportunity to reflect, interrogate and engage with the reality of the University.
Ms J Kilian (ANC) thanked the different stakeholders for their presentation, and shared with the Committee that she was an SU alumni, thus justifying her keen interest in the necessity to expand on the institution’s impact. She stressed that anything that bore the potential to deteriorate SU should be dealt with steadily and firmly, for growing polarisation was neither in the interest of Stellenbosch University or South Africa. She stated that Stellenbosch was a microcosm, and asked whether local inhabitants in the town of Stellenbosch were purposely hampering the process of transformation.
She claimed her Afrikaans cultural identity and her acute awareness of the concerns associated with Afrikaans within the academic sphere. She described the University’s language policy as extremely complex, and asked for how long could South Africa afford to have a fully fledged Afrikaans service in tertiary education. She pinpointed the uncertainty in terms of international competitiveness that resulted from this total wholly Afrikaans education system. She asked if the incorporation of isiXhosa represented a substantial enough linguistic expansion and asked in this regard what the geographical origins of most students were. She had been told that 75% of the students in the law department had selected English as their language of tuition, and enquired on the veracity of this fact. She highlighted the overarching suitability and usefulness of the English language to the workplace. She asked SU representatives whether research was being conducted on the Afrikaans barriers to application and registration.
She suggested that the four-month delay described by the university’s management to process received memoranda such as the OS one was excessively long, and asked how this delay could be shortened. She asked for greater details on SU’s student population.
Mr M Mbatha (EFF) described the ‘Luister’ documentary as eye opening, although he had heard about such issues for a long time. He asked the Vice-Chancellor why he was present if the college in question in the documentary was not part of Stellenbosch. He noted SU’s claim that it had achieved substantial transformation since its 95% white dominion of 1994, yet he pinpointed the total absence of reference to Coloured people in the present discussion on the role of Afrikaans as a language of tuition. He described this purposeful omission as an implicit indicator of SU’s willingness to preserve white privilege in its institution. He expressed his utmost concern that the status of black individuals seemed unlikely to change in the near future at SU.
Dr B Bozzoli (DA) described SU as a national treasure that was struggling to change. She noted the failure to adjust as significantly displayed in terms of gender inequalities, for every single member of SU’s senior management presently representing the institution was a man. Though she did not doubt the council’s seriousness, yet she criticised the presentation’s lack of precise provision of concrete targets and of accurate strategy. She asked SU what the true cost of its transformation plan was. She also asked who would be the main founder of such an initiative; the level of investment thus far, the nature of the policies targeting racism and the extent to which concrete penalties had been implemented to address such incidents. Dr Bozzoli enquired about SU’s addressing of the phenomenon of polarisation on campus.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) pointed out the University non-representativeness of the province’s demographics. He enquired about the nature and underlying rules of the admission process, asking whether the latter purposely aimed at preserving the entity’s situation of white monopoly. He questioned the actual relevance of asking students for their preferred language of tuition if they could not be accommodated in most cases. He asked why the fate of disadvantaged non-Afrikaans speakers was left to the lecturer’s discretion. He enquired how the University intended on ensuring that its policies would benefit all its students.
Ms M Nkadimeng (ANC) required greater details on the University’s response to the questionings originally submitted by students. With regards to the University’s objective of improving multilingualism by the year 2016, she enquired about the nature and costs that the institution would face in terms of lecturers, rooms and material capacity. She asked how did SU intend reaching its targets, while she questioned the relevance of asking students which language they wish to learn in, if such requirements could not be met. Ms Nkadimeng asked how SU management addressed the phenomenon of violence in residences.
Ms S Mchunu (ANC) asserted that the overwhelming representation of white students at SU was conflicting with the country’s reality and was hence unacceptable. She stressed that as the majority of the Cape’s population was composed of Coloured students, they ought to be more significantly integrated into the institution. She pinpointed language constraints as substantial barriers to the admission of many students. She referred to Prof de Villiers’ claim that the University was multilingual as being a fallacy. She nonetheless argued that SU’s plan seemed comprehensive, and she expressed her hopes that it would be appropriately implemented. She asked how the University intended on achieving its projected student representation. She expressed her concern with regards to the campus’ alienating conditions, while describing the staff representation as highly disturbing. She urged SU’s management to shortly improve its figures in this regard.
Mr Y Cassim (DA) highlighted the incorrectness and the unfortunate situation that one had had to wait for the release of a documentary to address an issue that everyone had been aware of for a long time. He commented that the Minister usually never attended the Committee. Today's exceptional visit was only due to the substantial media attention generated by the release of the ‘Luister’ documentary.
The Minister raised a point of order and warned Mr Cassim against his statement that he never attended Committee meetings. This was a serious allegation and he urged him to withdraw such a comment.
The Chairperson urged Mr Cassim to remain polite in his attitude and to avoid derailing the initial debate
Mr Cassim responded to the Minister’s indignation by asking him when last he had attended the Committee. He blamed Dr Nzimande for not responding when summoned by Members and for not reading the minutes of the various meetings that he had failed to attend.
The Chairperson interrupted Mr Cassim by strongly requesting him not to drift away but to focus on the content of the presentation.
The Minister reiterated his willingness to see the Member’s statement withdrawal. He stressed that he was not accountable to the DA.
The Chairperson sought to bring harmony into the increasingly acrimonious debate, and reminded Members and Department officials of the prevailing importance of respect.
Mr Cassim indicated that he shall proceed with his intervention on the basis of his freedom of speech. He anew emphasised that the Committee should not wait for public outcry to focus on real issues, such as the present one. He ironically enquired how he was supposed to guide students who experienced similar struggles, should he encourage them to create a documentary?
The Chairperson claimed that the Committee was supposed to visit the SUs campus in July but the journey had had to be delayed.
Mr Cassim asked why the Elsenburg College had not been summoned today before the Committee. He questioned Prof de Villiers on what procedure was followed once a racist incident had been reported, as it had occurred repeatedly in the past. He asked if the Vice-Chancellor believed that the suspension of students from the University would result in a significant mind-shift and deter other students from committing such acts. He asked why the position of Dean of Students had been removed and what factor had contributed to the worsening of the situation. Additional questions focused on student access and on how many qualifying previously disadvantaged students had failed to cover the University’s cost. With regards to translation, Mr Cassim asked what was being done technically to improve the quality of podcasting. He asked for greater details on the exact turnover of black academics.
Ms P Van Damme (DA) explained that although she was not a Member of the present Committee, she was highly concerned with the situation of black students in South African institutions of tertiary education, referring for instance to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement at UCT, or the black students’ associations at RU. She stressed that SU’s supposed multilingualism was not implemented in practice, and thus asked how this discrepancy was being addressed. She asked what processes were currently being undertaken by the University to improve cross-racial relations, suggesting the implementation of diversity training. With regards to the seeming stalemate reached by the negotiations between OS and SUs management, she asked what the latter intended doing in order to move forward and meet the requests of the student association.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) similarly indicated that although he did not belong to the present Committee, he had great interest in the matter at stake for he had once been a ‘Matie’ himself and today was a father of two ‘Matie’ students. He welcomed the SRC presentation on the reality of racism, and warned Members and stakeholders against the excessive politicisation of the present matter. He asked both the SRC chairpersons whether they agreed with Mr Mbatha’s statement that the situation was unlikely to improve at SU. He asked how could SU management and OS reach an agreement while warning the University against illegal activities that could often be orchestrated by a political party. He shared that his children were English speaking and were also regularly struggling to understand some of the university’s academic content, yet he expressed his total agreement with the Minister’s warning against English Imperialism, thus also highlighting the need to protect Afrikaans people.
Mr C Kekana (ANC) claimed that the Committee had planned to visit SU long before the release of the ‘Luister’ video, thus arguing that the latter had not initially motivated the present enquiry. He referred to Mr Laign’s statement that SU was not racist but composed of some racist students, and stressed that many actors were using the matter as a vector to score political points rather than to effectively address the matter. He expressed his view that SU management was genuinely concerned with the present situation and was effectively attempting to address it, while the student community unfortunately remained oblivious to these efforts. He thus openly asked why did black students still feel marginalised despite the university’s renewed endeavours of integration. He concluded that the present situation reminded him of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Prof de Villiers thanked Members of the Committee for their wise input and praised their acknowledgment of the university’s commitment to transformation. He indicated that in the case in which certain questions would not be addressed by his present responses, the University would gladly provide the Committee with any documentation required. He noted that the July date for the Committee to visit the SU campus had unfortunately coincided with a two-day seminar organised by the Department.
With regards to the eventuality of Stellenbosch’s non student community being an impediment to integration, he had neither noticed nor learnt about such structural constraints. He supported his claim by describing SU’s relationship with the Municipality and local South African Police Service (SAPS) as remarkably positive, for each public actor allegedly strove to ensure Stellenbosch’s inclusivity, relying for instance on the integration of Cloetesville and Kayamandi to the Municipal dynamics.
Prof de Villiers explained that six of the students interviewed in the ‘Luister’ video were part of Elsenburg College and thus fell under the mandate of the Western Cape Government, while SU was solely offering one course there.
The matter of poor gender diversity amongst staff members, as represented by the present SU delegation, was nuanced by the Rector who stressed that half the University’s lecturers were females, while senior lecturers nonetheless overwhelmingly remained males. He stressed his awareness that the ratio of 17% black, Coloured and Indian academic staff as a worrying figure. Every institution of tertiary education in the country was faced with the same issue, while Stellenbosch remained particularly committed to tackling the problem.
Students’ origins were described in the respective proportions of 65% of students from Western Cape, 11% from Gauteng, 7% from Kwazulu-Natal and 6% from Eastern Cape. The figures for first year students’ preferred language, was 47% had chosen English, while 45% of students spoke Afrikaans and 8% so-called “other-languages”.
In terms of the academic turnover, he shared his personal experience of the American higher education system where annual turnover rates ranged from 8 to 12%, yet he acknowledged SU’s low figures and rate of 3% to 4%. He specified that cases of resignation were systematically followed by exit interviews.
Prof de Villiers described his interaction with OS as highly frustrating, explaining that similar to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, OS was a collective that refused to rely on a narrow and classic system of hierarchy and leadership. He thus described interaction with the organisation as frustrating, nonetheless stating that private interaction with certain group members had occasionally proven be fruitful. He claimed that groups such as the South African Students' Congress (SASCO) or the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) had proven to be easier movements to engage with. He furthermore acknowledged that certain OS affiliated students were now part of SU’s SRC and stated his hope that this integration would contribute to making interaction more fluid. He reiterated his appreciation of Members input as well as his invitation to visit SU’s campus.
[The Minister was obliged to leave to attend another commitment]
Prof Koopman told Members that open forms of racism were consistently addressed in a swift manner, exemplifying his claim with the case of a lecturer who had been dismissed following an alleged case of a racist message. The University was mobilising all its energy to overcome forces of racism, homophobia and gender discrimination. He anew stated that SU was currently drafting a module that would promote tolerance and become compulsory to any degree.
With regard to Members’ comments on Coloured people in the Western Cape, he expressed his relative discomfort with the term ‘Coloured’ as being personally categorised in this group, and thus specified that it ought to be hereby understood in a ‘Mandelian’ rather than in a ‘Verwoerdian’ way. He argued that the University was striving to avoid any form of financial exclusion where one was gifted with academic merit. He prided the University with investments in rural communities, yet acknowledged that Coloured communities were the most poorly represented demographic group in South African higher education institutions. He restated the claim that the university’s management was striving for transformation, while he explained that Prof de Villiers had reappointed the position of Dean of Students as soon he had invested his new function. Prof Koopman therefore argued that SU was constantly attentive to its students’ concerns, while it was additionally addressing the phenomenon of violence in residences.
Prof van der Walt explained that SU’s language policy should be representative of the Western Cape’s. The students’ language preference was used to allocate them to the most appropriate classes in the university.
He confirmed that the institution’s enrolment was underlined by certain racial targets and that research on enrolment was actively undertaken by the university. An instance of this proactive stance was the procedure of phoning students who had met criteria for academic entry and yet not continued with their admission process.
On the question on the founding of language diversification, CSU had already increased the budget allocation to the enhancement of multilingualism in the past year. He added that state support was nonetheless expected to emphasise this transformative initiative.
He anew described the existence of demographic targets, and praised their achievement in each one of the university’s faculties. The wide-spread use of Afrikaans as an academic medium was referred to as extensively supportive of disadvantaged communities, for it enabled growing rates of Coloured people enrolment, challenging their current marginalisation in higher education institutions. He disproved Members’ claim that the choice of tuition language was left to the lecturer’s discretion.
Mr Laign thanked Mr Kekana for his questioning and conceded that most of racist incidents on campus did involve white individuals. He justified this reality by SU’s demographic representation. He shared that the University had been aware of this situation for an extensive period of time, and had therefore been addressing it from its premises.
Referring to Mr Swart’s enquiry, Mr Qina expressed his disagreement with Mr Mbatha’s statement and emphasised his belief that the situation would eventually improve. He referred to ideological values of humanism and Christian faith as opposed to racism. He underscored the importance of enhancing SU’s students social responsibility, as the core of the broader process of transformation that would ultimately result in human rights’ progress.
Mr Cassim expressed his discontent towards the absence of answers provided with regards to his enquiry on why the Dean of Students’ position had been removed. He asked whether the home language of potential lecturers was taken into account in the process of appointing academics within the university. He asserted that the sole removal of racist students from residences was too lenient of a disciplinary measure. He questioned student awareness of the various forums allegedly developed by the SU, urging management to address the matter.
Ms Kilian thanked SU’s leadership for its present attendance, praising its striving for academic excellence. She nonetheless expressed her concerns towards the 2014 figures which only highlighted 5.1% of isiXhosa speakers at the university. She emphasised that Xhosa people were originally living in the region, while SU could anyhow not develop its demographic targets on the exclusive basis of Western Cape. She strongly underscored that SU was a national asset that thus ought to be representative of the nation as a whole.
Mr Swart sarcastically suggested that Ms Kilian should also campaign for the promotion of Afrikaans at UCT.
Prof de Villiers explained that the case of the student accused of racism at residence corresponded to an ongoing investigation, pinpointing his exclusion from the residence as a temporary measure to which stronger sanctions would be added if the veracity of the accusation was to be confirmed. He claimed that the University allocated R588 000 million to bursaries in order to support students from disadvantaged background.
He responded to Ms Kilian’s concern by arguing that isiXhosa was not the only African language on which the University language policy was focused. He argued that 14% of the student population was from a total of 147 countries, hence justifying the overarching use of English as an the most accommodating language.
Prof Koopman explained that the position of Dean of Students had not exactly been removed but rather changed. The latter conversion had been carried on through a senior director, focusing on the inclusion of disadvantaged students
Prof de Villiers repeated his gratitude towards the Committee for allowing SU to presently detail its findings, challenges and achievements. He reiterated his invitation to all Members to visit the university’s campus.
The Chairperson expressed her gratitude towards the Department for the Minister’s attendance as well as towards SU’s representatives and particularly Prof de Villiers. She apologised for keeping the University’s management away from its students. She thanked Prof de Villiers for giving his permission to Members to receive students to engage in important discussions, as it had occurred in the previous days, praising the Committee’s balanced perspective in its engagement. She acclaimed SU’s bright academic record as well as its international recognition, and expressed her hopes that it would eventually become the best university in the country. She thanked the University for not condemning students’ experience that had arisen from ‘Luister’, nonetheless pinpointing that certain issues required an urgent intervention from the institution’s management. She required from SU not to victimise the OS movement, while requesting from the management that the safety and security of the students involved in the collective will be assured and prioritised. She urged SU to develop substantial communication channels with the group, arguing that no challenge was insurmountable. She finally expressed her appreciation of the University’s targeting of rural disadvantaged communities as part of a greater inclusivity.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Council of Stellenbosch University submission
- Welcoming training 2015/16
- Institutional Forum at Stellenbosch University presentation
- Incoming Stellenbosch University SRC Chair Axolile Qina: Prepared presentation
- Stellenbosch University (SU) Management submission
- Stellenbosch University on Luister documentary about student/staff racism & transformation plan & language policy implementation
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