Watching the Luister documentary, which captured some students’ and a staff member’s accounts of racism at Stellenbosch University, was “uncomfortable and disturbing”, says Vice-Chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers.
The documentary was released last week.
Prof de Villiers along with the university’s senior management team and the leadership of the Student Representative Council (SRC) appeared before Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education on Tuesday to discuss issues of transformation at the institution.
The video, which was first posted online by student activist group Open Stellenbosch, trended on social media and reignited the transformation debate. Following its airing, the university’s management was ordered to appear before Parliament’s committee on higher education.
“I watched Luister with my wife and found it uncomfortable and disturbing,” Prof de Villiers told MPs on Tuesday.
“I do not enjoy knowing that students — my students — are suffering. It is really painful for me … I will not defend the indefensible … racism, discrimination and marginalisation are all wrong,” he said.
However, Prof de Villiers pointed out that there were some “nuances” omitted from the Luister documentary.
He said off-campus incidents were not properly clarified in the video. For example, it had not been made clear that Elsenburg, a campus mentioned in the documentary, was in fact not part of Stellenbosch University.
Nonetheless, racism had to be condemned whether it happened at the university or outside of it, Prof de Villiers said. He told MPs that transformation was “top priority” at the university. The university was sorry for its contribution to apartheid and was on the road to transforming itself.
“Stellenbosch is a world-class institution … not an Afrikaans university,” he said.
He said the university’s language policy gave equal status to English and Afrikaans, and it wanted to provide 75% of its modules in both languages in coming years. Postgraduate classes are in English.
Prof de Villiers also told MPs that it had been difficult to engage with Open Stellenbosch as members of the group did not “want to identify their leaders”.
“They want to set the agenda for meetings and interactions with them are not constructive … they want to engage as a collective.”
Prof de Villiers said he was hopeful that the newly elected SRC could facilitate further engagements with Open Stellenbosch.
“I know that there are members (of the new SRC) that have existing or prior affiliations with Open Stellenbosch, which could be helpful in engagements going forward”.
Stefan Lang, the outgoing SRC chairman, told MPs that Stellenbosch is not a “racist university, but we do have racists”.
He said all university structures needed to work together to deal with discrimination at the institution. BD Live