Redress and Transformation are still too slow at Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch University has launched a “rebranding period” and it should be used appropriately: to decolonise and transform the institution.
Following the Constitutional Courts ruling on the 2016 Language Policy of Stellenbosch University, which it made at the end of 2019, it is important to adhere to the transformative process of redress by ensuring that Stellenbosch truly does become an African university. The university is also currently going through a “rebranding process”, and therefore, there are a number of approaches that the university should consider taking in order to achieve a true transformative SU.
In both 2018 and 2019, the university did speed up a “redress” programme by introducing conversations at faculties, as well as erecting the bronze statue circle of formidable womxn, and the maps of areas of Stellenbosch outside the university library, on the Rooi Plein. In addition to this, the university has inscripted an array of African languages and sign languages on certain benches across campus.
However, this should only be regarded as “aesthetic redress”. It is important to note that this should be acknowledged, but much more needs to take place. A more impactful form of “aesthetic redress” to consider is the renaming building names of the institution. It has been long criticised that some buildings are named after white men who were apartheid apologists or, even worse, supporters of the apartheid regime.
The university allegedly has a task team that was formed to consider renaming buildings. However, this task team was supposed to have been in operation since 2016, so little is known about what they have achieved in the last 3–4 years. A building name that needs to change immediately, is Wilcocks. The man played a big role in supervising and assisting Hendrik Verwoerd with his apartheid blueprints. The only building that was renamed was the Equality Unit building, which is now called Simon Nkoli, an anti-apartheid and queer rights activist.
It is understandable that the university cannot simply change the names of buildings that were donated by alumni, but they should be able to change the names of individuals who have caused much harm in our society through their words, actions or academics. Another area of transformation in the institution is to tackle colonial, apartheid formations that still exist within structures and faculties.
When it comes to academic changes, there have been some developments as raised by Professor Arnold Schoonwinkel in a recent Cape Argus article. The problem is the reception of transformative modules by students. There is often a disdain towards them, especially from white students, who have been taught a certain “narrative” about decolonisation. Therefore, there should be compulsory transformation modules, or a ResEd programme on decolonisation and transformation should be implemented to tackle ignorance.
The rectorate’s decision-making process should also be transformed. Currently, there seems to be a “culture of authority” at the top level of management where little-to-no consultation exists between itself and students. The rectorate often believes that a mere conversation with the SRC is considered “student consultation”, and that they can go ahead with implementing a decision. However, the “culture of justification” should be adopted whereby critical analyses and discussions over potential decisions should take place.
A clear example of this is the rectorate’s recent decision to ban alcohol in residential spaces. The SRC expressed that it had not been consulted, and students had no idea of its implementation until House Committee members were briefed by staff members of the Centre for Student Communities. This is rather concerning and unprofessional of the rectorate to do.
In terms of residences, it is clear following the Anti-GBV Movement last year, that there is a dire need to transform these living spaces. Some students have asked whether putting in racial or gender quotas may change the culture of the living spaces. Either way, it is safe to argue that the majority of residences on SU campus are living in the 1990s with apathy being an intrinsic part of their cultures.
Gender neutral bathrooms were a major conversation in 2018. Sadly, it seems as though it has been forgotten. Queer, non-binary and trans students continue to be severely marginalised on our campus, and with stigma and ignorance being major problems, there is continuous discrimination taking place. Some places, such as offices in the Student Affairs division, provide gender neutral bathrooms, but most spaces have not become inclusive.
There are many aspects of the institution, that need to be changed. One could write a thesis on this topic, and it may still be disregarded. Nevertheless, it is vital that ongoing criticism continues in an academic space where we debate and point out the need to change our institution in order for it to become a diverse, inclusive, equal space where everyone feels accepted.