CATHARINA VAN DER MESCHT
Residents of the Listen, Live & Learn (LLL) Village and supporters of the initiative have contested the decision made by Stellenbosch University management to convert the LLL Village into a senior residence in 2020. This comes after Enos Lekala, the LLL coordinator, and Pieter Kloppers, Director at the Centre for Student Communities, informed the current LLL villagers of the University’s decision to remove the village from the LLL program and to transform this living space into a senior residence.
On Wednesday 21 August at 11:05, a group of roughly 30 student protesters marched from the Van der Sterr building to the Centre for Student Communities (CSC) to hand over a Memorandum of Grievance to Kloppers.
Upon arrival at the CSC the protesting students chanted, “Down with programs of Pieter Kloppers! Down!”. This was repeated several times. Kloppers appeared and Zizo Vokwana, SASCO chairperson, stepped forward to address the crowd.“…it’s an exclusion issue. LLL is a black space [and] we will not allow it to be destabilized. That is our space and black students apply there because it is our home,” Vokwana said. She added that, “It is very important for white students to have their own culture, to us as well it is very important to have our own culture on this campus,” said Vokwana.
Luke Waltham, chairperson of the Stellenbosch Chapter of UNASA, read out loud the memorandum composed by the People’s Movement and current grieved LLL village residents. “Our fundamental problem with this decision is that LLL is a programme and a space of transformation where people of colour have been able to live comfortably and feel included,” read Waltham.
According to the memorandum, those involved reject management’s decision “wholeheartedly on administrative and humanitarian grounds.” It further reads: “We believe that there was not enough communication from management, and this lack of consultation has resulted in an administrative error and lack of oversight from their side.” The three-page memorandum also states that “the comments stated by[sic] Martin Viljoen, spokesperson of the university, in MatieMedia were not factually correct, and misled the public.”
In an article published by MatieMedia on 17 August 2019, Martin Viljoen, SU spokesperson, said that a growing need for accommodation for senior students led to Management’s decision. He is quoted saying, “The LLL Programme is an experiential learning platform and the stand-alone houses provide us [with] the best chance of managing both success and failure at any given time. “Not only is this attributable to them being the foundation of LLL as initially conceived, but also because their spatial design and structure allow us to break the houses into easily manageable hosts,” said Viljoen. After Waltham finished reading the memorandum, Kloppers received a copy and asked if it would be possible to receive a smaller group of names with which management could have an initial discussion regarding the demands. This was met with resistance as the protestors demanded the suspense of management’s decision before any further engagements could take place.
Keitumese Lebesa, a third year LLB student and one of the protestors, stepped forward. “What we are requesting is [for you] to scrape the decision that was made without due process, without consultative governance, without communication. Let us start from a point of departure where both sides are willing to engage, so that we can both come to a decision, open mindedly[sic] so, without any ulterior solutions on the side,” he said.
The protest ended with Kloppers agreeing to postpone the decision until a meeting with the proposed group of representatives had taken place. When asked about what exactly the LLL initiative is and how the LLL village links into the program Kloppers answered, “The LLL programme was designed to prepare students as agents of change in society where they [can] help to build and support thriving communities and to contribute to the building of social cohesion amongst our students and to have a similar lasting impact wider than the University.”
“LLL is thus seen as a unique growth opportunity and not merely accommodation. For this reason, students apply or reapply for the programme annually. Students are well aware that they have to contribute to the programme to make it successful. The LLL Village is purposefully built to support such a programme and is designed in such a way that each unit would represent a ‘house’.” “The LLL programme overall has struggled in the last two years to get the desired numbers to run the programme successfully for the roughly 200 students that form part of the programme.[…] In other words, there are not enough applicants that meet the qualifying LLL standards to make sure that the programme starts the year in a way that can ensure success,” Kloppers said. According to Kloppers, the result was that senior students who were uninterested in participating in the LLL programme, and who had not applied for LLL, were allocated to LLL living spaces. “This dilutes the focus of the houses. To make the programme successful, the numbers must thus be reduced. It also became clear that it would be more sensible to use the freestanding houses as the base for the programme.
Flowing from this, the current LLL village can be converted into a senior residence for which there is also a real need.” Klopper’s said there are about 1 000 applicants for senior student housing annually and only around 200 places are available. He added that if the Village is converted to a senior residence it could add about 110 places. “The CSC hopes to be fair to all, to those that currently live in the Village and applied for a place to stay for next year, as well as all other students that applied for senior residences for 2020.
Constructive conversation with the students currently in the village, including those that handed over the memorandum, will lead us in the process,” he said. At the time of writing, a list of LLL representatives was sent to management so that the procedure of student consultation could begin. This is a developing story.