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Meeting to address Stellenbosch racism claims

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A documentary recounting incidents of racism faced by black students at Stellenbosch University is garnering much attention, prompting Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande to call on the university to provide answers on the allegations. Luister (Listen), a 30-minute documentary created by a group called Open Stellenbosch, provides first-hand accounts from 32 students and a lecturer on the rampant state of racism on campus, with a call from black students for urgent transformation.

The Open Stellenbosch movement was launched roughly five months ago to call for a review of the university’s language policy, which forces students of colour to be taught bilingually in English and Afrikaans. This has been to the detriment of students without a firm grasp in Afrikaans.

The movement’s spokesperson, Sikhulekile Duma said the university was plagued by a culture of institutionalised racism on campus, in the residences, and even in the town itself. While Stellenbosch University management has been called on to address these concerns, he said they were effectively turning a blind eye to the issue.

“After having tried dialogue with the university and trying to change this, we had to come out with #Luister which correctly articulated the concerns and experiences of black students on Stellenbosch campus,” he explained.

The response of the university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers has also been labelled as problematic by Open Stellenbosch. Duma said de Villiers had refused a prior request to meet with the group to address their concerns, instead approaching the media and Afrikaner civil-rights groups like Afriforum.

Afriforum in particular has called for more evidence to be brought forth on the allegations of racism before the matter is taken up further, a response that Duma deemed saddening.

“The guy from Afriforum was with us on radio yesterday and he was saying that the concerns, and the experience people have had with racism were not legitimate. That is the kind of Apartheid and deniability complex that we have at Stellenbosch University, where you make a concern and it is not taken seriously,” he said.

The claims of racism is alleged to extend beyond the campus itself, described as an institutionalised problem in the town of Stellenbosch as a whole.

“It is that complete mentally of people are supposed to be separate because this is an Afrikaans town, this is an Afrikaans university that is rampant and a huge problem,” he added.

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training will meet with Stellenbosch University management on Tuesday. The Committee, which is chaired by Yvonne Phosa, is scheduled to hear the SU management’s response to these allegations.

“The Committee expects to hear plans on preventing occurrences of incidents of a similar nature in future and a progress report on the university’s transformation plan and language policy,” said Phosa.

Other related stakeholders such as the Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande have been invited to the meeting. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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