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By Megan Brink and Carla Visagie

There is no doubt that for the majority of Stellenbosch students and townspeople Pulp Cinema is a flagship association with the Neelsie Student Centre, a cornerstone of the community. However, the entertainment hotspot is facing closure, as their rental contract with Stellenbosch University (SU) will reach its end on 31 December 2020. 

Werner de Swardt, owner of Pulp Cinema, received a lawyer’s letter on 26October from Cluver Markotter Attorneys ordering that he vacate the premises on 31 December 2020 in accordance with the end of a two year and six months fixed rental agreement between Pulp Cinema and SU. This lease came into fruition on 1 July 2016 and was renewed in June 2018 to extend to 31 December 2020. The lawyers’ letter, which was seen by Die Matie, instructed the following:

“You shall, on the expiration date, surrender the premises in the same good order and condition as the premises were on the commencement date of the lease agreement” and “remove all your fixtures from the premises and also, to the extent required by our client (following an inspection of the premises by our client, which inspection will be arranged with you during November 2020) any other alterations, additions, improvements and installations by, or before, Thursday 31 December 2020.” 

According to Martin Viljoen, SU Media Manager, “Both parties agreed that Pulp Cinema would not continue operating after the expiry of the lease agreement, either at December 2018 or, if the tenant extended, then in December 2020. The lease agreement reaches its natural end as was agreed between the parties at the conclusion of the lease agreement, in line with each party’s true, original intentions.” 

The reason for the change in utility of space, according to Viljoen, is that “venue facilities and lecture theatres are in huge demand on campus”. 

“An improved utility of the theatre complex as a general venue to allow for many different usages and functions will better service all students instead of the exclusive usage of the facility by one society. The venue model also saves SU the expenditure of spending money on hiring facilities when it has a facility. Over time, we are convinced that the short-term leasing model will be sustainable, cater for more uses and more positively impact the mix of the student centre and the services it provides for all,” Viljoen says.

Viljoen added that the space rented by Pulp Cinema was “the subject of improved utility (a change of usage that would cater for more students and activities) well before the lease with Pulp Cinema. For that reason, both Pulp and SU agreed that after the lease agreement ended, there would be no further renewal and the tenant would vacate the premises. SUNCOM would be able to initiate its original plans at that time and, importantly, Pulp agreed to this as acondition to their lease”.

According to Viljoen, the theatre space will be utilised by “the newly established Central Events and Conferencing Office (CECO), which is an innovative commercial undertaking to fulfil InnovUS and SUNCOM’s mandate of fifth stream income generation on behalf of SU”. 

“[CECO has] the goal to act as a one stop shop to manage short-term rentals of SU facilities. This function includes external short-term facility rentals, maximising the use of its facilities for internal activity and stimulating conferencing activity at SU,” Viljoen says.

According to Viljoen, “the CECO office will in future engage with all parties, Mr De Swardt included, for short term rental availability”. 

“The future screening of films is therefore not affected, and he may continue to render a service to the students on campus – within the new structure. In other words, Pulp will still be able to use the Neelsie and the students’ film society does not have to be affected by the lease coming to an end,” Viljoen says.

In an email sent to De Swardt by InnovUS,  Pulp was offered the “opportunity to use the theatres and continue to render [their] service… for two evenings a week, however, you [De Swardt] will be required to vacate the theatre space completely after each evening”. 

According to De Swardt, he invested a lot to improve the condition of the Pulp Cinema when he started hiring it in 2011, and it was not easy an easy process to set up the infrastructure in Pulp. 

“People only used the bathroom, there was nothing in here, the theatres weren’t operational, the seats were broken, one of the screens [was] slashed, no sound, no audio, no video, nothing like that. Just to make a theatre audio-video friendly, is going to cost them in excess of a million rand, you can’t just plug a projector in there to fill up an 8 meter screen,” De Swardt said.

According to Annika Hohbach, the current chairperson of the Pulp Film Society, the society has “no way of existing” without unlimited access to the theatre and De Swardt’s assistance.

She continued to explain that she does not believe Pulp Society will survive if the cinema closes, “the movies being [shown] is what keeps this society going and what keeps the members coming. The movies that Werner is showing are incredible. We are all students and we can’t run something like that. We are in need of this cinema for the society’s survival.”

This is not the first time De Swardt faces the end of his rental contract with SU. As the cinema is rented on a month-to-month basis, De Swardt alleges that there was always a constant threat of losing the contract because the dramatic escalation in rent could not be met. 

As reported by Die Matie on 22 October 2014, the basis of this eviction was rooted in the cinema not accepting the 400% increase in rent, put forward by Gary Howell, Manager: Maties Letting Office, that would see De Swardt jump from R12 000 per month to R95 000 per month.

According to De Swardt, if the Cinema could have been seen as “an eyesore”, he “would be the first one to call it a day”, but Pulp Cinema is a “successful tenant”.

“Any mall environment, centre environment or commercial environment, will never ever kick out a successful tenant, or not renew their contract if they were successful and contributing to the environment. It is impossible for me to give up on something this successful that creates so much joy and creates so much income for the University, and that people are dependent on,” De Swardt says.

According to De Swardt, he made an alternative offer to the University to host conferences for free for the University, in exchange for having screenings every day. De Swardt says that Pulp Cinema is already accustomed to organising events and conferences for SU as they host four or five conference events a week during term. 

On top of this offer of free use of the space, De Swardt says that Pulp Cinema committed that the University could use; their staff for any technical needs, their PowerPoint facilities, their projectors and audio equipment, as well as full access to their cordless mics, background screens, air conditioning, coffee stand and their bar. 

Yet, SU, in the name of CECO, has opted rather to terminate the lease and fork out over a million rand to make the theatre audio-video friendly. As well as a high rental income, they are willing to give up the offer of Pulp Cinema to continue hosting all events and conferences for free and in the words of De Swardt, “willing to kill Pulp Cinema”.

This left De Swardt questioning, “If it’s the University’s true intention to create a conferencing venue, why not let [Pulp] do it for them? At no extra cost?”

The implications of this decision are endless – besides the farewell to the campus-wide love of Pulp popcorn and the very needed coffee and occasional booze fix, De Swardt employs 12 staff who are all the sole breadwinners for their families. According to De Swardt, he and his family rely on the cinema for income, the Toyota US Woordfees Filmfees relies on the Cinema space, and the fate of Pulp Society hangs in the balance. 

While SU has assured that they will accommodate Pulp Film Society, the most popular and biggest of all 54 societies on campus with a membership of between 2000 and 3000 students that grows by 20-25% annually, according to Hohbach, the society has not been offered an alternative venue. Neither have arrangements been made with them about the new developments.

According to Viljoen, “the businesses in the Neelsie will benefit from the change in usage of the theatre complex whereas at present, they do not benefit much”.

A tenant in the Neelsie who chose to remain anonymous, describes Pulp Cinema as “an anchor tenant”.

“The older people started coming in [to the Neelsie] because of Pulp Cinema. Specifically on the second floor, everybody [all tenants] benefit from Pulp, because they hang around if they watch a screening. Pulp is the only benefit of the Neelsie, because it pulls people in. When we walk home in the evenings, townspeople walk in here, and I think restaurants can stay open because of the foot flow that Pulp Cinema brings,” the tenant says.

Christine Pietersen, rental agent at Neelsie Eiendomme and avid supporter of Pulp Cinema, says that “Pulp Cinema not only attracts students, but also townspeople, whoever enters the centre sees us [Neelsie Eiendomme]” and it will be a very sad day when Pulp Cinema closes.”

“Since Pulp opened their doors in 2011, I have been a member. What I enjoy most of the cinema is that they really show nice movies and often new movies or old movies that you cannot see anywhere else. Pulp is also very beneficial for the community, I even see groups from the old age home often going to Pulp. They have also started to show movies for children over the holidays, so they do not only serve the student body, but the whole community,” Pietersen says.

Pulp Cinema before and after De Swardt started renting the space. Photo: Supplied


  1. Philip de Villiers says:

    This is a sad day for Stellenbosch University when commerce kills culture while there are clearly other excellent options. We love Pulp and what it brings to the town and campus. It is the only reason outside Endler why retirees visit the campus. I will surely sign any petition to keep Pulp open and Werner and his staff afloat.

  2. Barbara says:

    This is a tragic and avoidable loss for not only the University community but for Stellenbosch. Pulp offers a most valuable asset, that is driven by the vision and care of Werner Swardt. I hope and pray that someone in the University leadership will take a stand for vision and for community and for Finding a way to include Pulp in its future plans. Visionaries and community minded entrepreneurs such as Werner, are rare gems, whose value only multiplies if they are given the opportunity.

  3. Sybrand E. Smit says:

    This was the easiest club to join and still feel part of US society. Mid-night screenings was the most unique experience. You can’t simulate that atmosphere anywhere else. The best part was inviting visitors + locals along to the only cinema still in Stellenbosch for a ‘clean’ night out that doesn’t involve alcohol or clubbing. Plus a safe space after hours. Plus a reason to show them the Neelsie where ‘we used to used to’. This is taking away history and a short-sighted decision for profit. If you wanna make money why stop there? Turn everything into high-rising office/accommodation complexes. It’s prime real-estate in the center of campus. *Tsk

    Thank you, Werner for years of sacrifice. You really contributed to Everyone’s student experience. Even if they didn’t watch one movie, they knew of the Pulp Film society and they were intrigued by “what’s happening over here”. I know you will make a success of whatever comes next. You have that touch of class.

  4. Anelene Schoonees says:

    What a great loss, not only for the US, but for the entire town. This is really a shortsighted decision.

  5. Anelene Schoonees says:

    What a great loss, not only for the US, but for the entire town. This is really a shortsighted decision.

  6. Anelene Schoonees says:

    What a great loss, not only for the US, but for the entire town. This is really a shortsighted decision.

  7. Anelene Schoonees says:

    What a great loss, not only for the US, but for the entire town. This is really a shortsighted decision.

  8. J. Cain says:

    A cinema in the Neelsie is a many decades long-standing institution for both Stellenbosch University and Stellenbosch town. Werner and his team have made Pulp the most dynamic and engaged version of all. This cinema adds an incredible cultural element to town and university – it would be a travesty to destroy this space and all it offers to so many for the sake of yet another venue or some section of the university thinking they are going to make more money off a new set-up. Pulp cinema enables communal viewing of great films on a big screen – and adds to the quality of life of many students and townspeople.
    Come on Stellenbosch University – re-think this please!

  9. Maties Student says:

    Way for Mr. Viljoen and SU to do whatever they can to ruin the university and neelsie. The top floor is already setup as classrooms etc and there are already empty shops (Kwikspar) and useless tenants in the Neelsie. Pulp is the only reason I go into the Neelsie and when I have family or friends visiting we go to the Neelsie to Pulp and then support the restaurants in the Neelsie too. There is no other cinema in Stellenbosch. You will now need to travel to Paarl or Somerset West. Pulp is not just part of SU or the Neelsie, but part of Stellenbosch as a town. Mr. Viljoen needs to get a grip of reality and come to his senses. Embarassed to be a Matie if this is how SU treats it’s loyal tenants.

  10. Siobhan says:

    There is a petition that has been set up at #SavePulpCinema

  11. Mark says:

    The imcompetance of Neelsie’s management is rooted in their greed to take a piece of the pie because they feel they are entitled to it. These are not business minded people, but rather admin officers looking to take and be off some sort of importance. Professors and university personnel are useless business people.

    Go woke and go broke

  12. Leandrei says:

    What will happened to the staff that are breadwinners for their families…?

  13. Anri says:

    This is a complete and utter tragedy. The Neelsie and all its business will surely suffer if Pulp is lost! Is there any way to petition this? Or find an alternative venue?

  14. Nisa says:

    Can we please petition this?

  15. Siobhan says:

    It would be an utter loss if Pulp closes down. Pulp adds such a beautiful flavour to the cultural landscape of the town and Werner de Swardt has managed to make it accessible for all people, students and others alike. Can’t we petition this??? Very shortsighted on the side of SU – you are killing something beautiful and even though it seems like Werner has offered you a great alternative, it looks like you doggedly want to go forward with your ambitions for the venue without considering what is needed in the wider context for the town. Conferencing facilities are a dime a dozen but a beautiful cinema serving the community is not. Please reconsider SU, you are uniquely positioned to decide between something slick and something beautiful. We have enough slick in the town and out of the town, can we please preserve what’s beautiful.

    1. Nisa says:

      Completely agree! It boosts the town’s economy as well?

    2. Mattie van der Merwe says:

      Very good point. Pulp binds the community to SU in a positive way. I am thinking of t
      he Woordfees fil festival and kids’s movies over holidays. The staff are like family to us Pulp members – they’ve built a beautiful relationship. Werner has put a heart into that cinema by his creative and people-friendly approach. I am very sad to hear of this plan.

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