Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande wants answers from the University of Stellenbosch after watching the documentary #Luister (Listen), in which students tell of anti-black racism on and off campus.
“The Minister has closely studied the documentary and written a letter to the Chairperson of Council, Mr [George] Steyn, requesting the University Council to provide him with a report on how it intends to address the matter,” Nzimande’s office stated on Wednesday.
“These are clearly incidents reminiscent of the old apartheid South Africa and have no place in our democracy. Most disturbingly, these incidents of racism and discrimination are seemingly taking place unabated at one of the highly rated institutions of higher learning in our country.”
He was shocked by the personal accounts of the black students, saying no South African should tolerate it, and urged the university to deal with it firmly.
Nzimande said the issue was not only about Afrikaans as a language of instruction, which some students said excluded them from some subjects, but also about racist attitudes among some white students and academics.
These issues were discussed in a meeting with representatives of councils and managers of some of the former Afrikaans universities on April 16, and although they said they would work on them, students’ experiences showed otherwise.
He acknowledged efforts by Vice Chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers to remove discrimination, which included the “Open Stellenbosch” transformation initiative, and a transformation office and committee.
In a statement responding to the documentary earlier this week, De Villiers said the university was working hard to address these issues, and had invited students to speak to him. He found some of the allegations – that the students weren’t being heard – “disingenuous”.
Many initiatives to bring about transformation were already under way. A plaque with apartheid head of state Hendrik Verwoerd was removed, a fund for the descendants of forced removals established, a peace march was held and a lecturer was fired for sending a racist SMS.
Top strategic appointments to “advance reconciliation” had been made and a Research Chair in Reconciliation and Transformation was being established.
It is also working to increase the number of black, coloured and Indian students from the current one third to 50% by 2018/2019. He said the negative attitudes were in no way reflective of the majority of students and staff.
He pointed out that it was inaccurate to state in the video that the university did not allow protests. He said protests must be within the rules of the university and not disrupt lectures.
De Villiers said a false impression had been created at the beginning of the video that the Elsenburg Agricultural College, where recent protests have broken out over language policy, was part of the university. The college fell under the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape.
He said in terms of off-campus incidents, the institution was working with police on these, but encouraged students to report matters to the university and authorities.
Nzimande is holding a Higher Education Summit from October 15 to October 17, 2015, with the focus on transforming higher education.
In addition, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, [Yvonne Nkwenkwezi] Phosa has called for the university management to appear before the Committee on this matter, as part of its oversight function.
The university’s head of marketing Susan van der Merwe said De Villiers welcomed the invitation from the portfolio committee and would also provide feedback to Nzimande on its transformation challenges, progress, current initiatives and future plans.