A general sentiment I have noted among progressive activists on campus is hopelessness. I myself am becoming weary of trying to effect institutional change at an institution that seems adamant to oppose their students at every opportunity. I find it interesting that such a large number of students at Stellenbosch University holds their management in contempt, and would leave at the first possible opportunity, kept here only by material conditions. I wonder if this is the case at other universities as well.
This institutional opposition to “transformation” manifests itself in a number of ways, probably becoming the clearest in the time of Prof. Russel Botman, the previous vice-chancellor of SU. Back then, Prof. Botman received extremely critical backlash for even instituting such a thing as a “Transformation Office”. This Office is among several departments at the University that are doing great work in transformation and decolonisation, especially in a number of academic departments in the Social Sciences Faculty. However, they seem to be prevented from having any influence whatsoever outside of academia or perhaps a few critical engagements.
A more current example is how extremely keen the University seems for “visual redress”. Most students have seen the metal silhouettes on the Rooiplein grass or noticed the multilingual phrases on the benches. Just recently, new boards went up outside the Library, probably with the purpose of encouraging interaction with the larger Stellenbosch community. However, despite all this apparent fervour, the Wilcocks building still carries the name of the person who supervised Hendrik Verwoerd’s thesis first introducing the concept of “apartheid”. Further, the naming of the Equality Unit’s building as “Simon Nkoli House” contravenes explicit call from Nkoli’s family to not name any buildings after him or host events in his name, stating that the University has offended him and his legacy.
The most recent controversial decision by the University was to take away the Village from the LLL program, making it a senior residence. Technically, LLL is a “senior residence”, but works very differently from other resses; most importantly, it has a thorough application process that does not take HEMIS into account, but rather relies on interviews and critical engagement with social issues. The loss of the Village makes it much more difficult to be accepted into the program, since about 120 places — about 60% of the current capacity — is being taken away.
LLL has long been a hub for progressive activism, and a safe space for students of colour and other marginalised student groups, making this seem like a politically motivated decision. The “switch-over” might not have been a problem in itself, but the CSC’s conduct in this process has been quite infantilising, expecting students to just accept a bureaucratic decision by some unknown committee, without ever engaging with those people who would be affected by their decision (contrary to what the University Spokesperson told MatieMedia). Further, this decision was only announced after senior res applications have closed, preventing students from applying for other residences. There has been an opportunity given to apply to be considered for the Village, but reportedly only 18 students that are not placed in LLL will be placed in the Village. Add to this the 74 remaining LLL positions in the freestanding houses, and the total number of students not displaced from student housing becomes 92, which is still a significant drop from the almost 200 students LLL is housing this year. This is even more stark when taking into account that some reapplications will be unsuccessful so that new residents can be accepted — this means that more than a hundred students are effectively being displaced.
It is completely understandable that students are upset, but for many this is just one more way the University seems to actively antagonise and infantilise its students.