Reflections on Transformation at Stellenbosch University
On 20 November 2022 I delivered the keynote address at the annual Transformation Indaba of Stellenbosch University (SU). It was an honour to be invited to speak, but I had to think carefully before accepting. There was a time when I knew a lot about the affairs of the university, having served as its Rector from 2002 till 2007, but fifteen years had passed since then, and I now knew no more about transformation issues at SU than any other interested observer. My hesitation was increased by the fact that the university community was at that time awaiting a report by Emeritus Justice Sisi Khampepe into allegations of racism at SU, following an incident in which an intoxicated white student had entered the room of a black fellow-student and urinated on his desk. I knew about this incident, and that the Khampepe Commission had been instituted by the Rector, but little more. I therefore felt that I could not meet any expectation of informed comment either on the incident itself, nor deliver any prognosis of the eventual report (which, as it happened, appeared a week later).
None the less, having discussed my dilemma with those who invited me, I decided in the end that I could do two things that might be useful. First, I could sketch a picture of transformation issues during my time as Rector, and hold that picture up to the Indaba to see how many and how much of those issues were still alive today. Second, I could give some comparisons with my experience elsewhere, having also served at a senior leadership level in higher education in Australia, the UK and Hong Kong. These two kinds of reflection thus constituted my keynote address.
My presentation at the Indaba was captured on video, and can be viewed here.The video made of my keynote address at the Transformation Indaba unfortunately did not include the powerpoint slides I used, which were displayed on large screens in the venue, and which were an integral part of my presentation. I am much indebted to Aryan Kaganof, curator/editor of herri, for retrofitting my powerpoint slides to the original video.
Rather than just transcribe for this article what I said in my speech, I will give an overview, and offer a few more reflections. The basic aims remain the same, although some details appearing in the speech are skipped over here. The data and quotations I used in my address come mostly from two sources. The first is the valedictory volume about my tenure as Rector, Chris Brink, Anatomy of a Transformer, which is available in full on the internet.Amanda Botha (Ed.): Chris Brink, Anatomy of a Transformer, SUN Press Stellenbosch, 2007. Available for download as a pdf document here. (In Afrikaans: Chris Brink, Anatomie van ‘n Omvormer, here.) The other is a farewell address which I gave a few days before leaving Stellenbosch in 2007. That address is unpublished, but I was able to delve into my personal archives to find the powerpoint presentation I used on that occasion, and I displayed some of those original slides in my keynote address at the Indaba.
When I was appointed as Rector of SU, I was living and working in Australia. I knew, however, that Stellenbosch had long had an undeniably close relationship with the apartheid regime. How, I wondered, does such a university become part of the new democratic South Africa? That seemed to me a challenge worth accepting. Transformation therefore became the central theme of my Rectorship.
The university at that time was overwhelmingly white and Afrikaans. Increasing diversity, I thought, was the key towards a future university which would be better aligned with the realities and aspirations of a democratic South Africa, and I said so publicly in my first statement as Rector of Stellenbosch. This was at the academic opening of the university in January 2002 – an annual event where the new students are welcomed in a formal university-wide ceremony. ‘Here is my first opinion’, I said: ‘Stellenbosch University needs more diversity’. Moreover, I gave an academic justification for this opinion.
The reason why I believe we need more diversity is this: diversity has an inherent educational value. That is why we need more of it. This is an educational institution. Our business is about knowledge. That means we have to learn, all the time. … We will learn more from those people, those ideas and those phenomena that we do not know, than from those we know only too well. We need around us people who represent the rich spectrum of South African life, and we need the diversity of ideas that are new to us. We need to pursue this diversity of people and ideas because of our core business – which is to learn.
Later on, in another speech at another occasionAt the Rhodes Trust Centenary Reunion, 29 January 2003. Anatomy of a Transformer pp. 82-87. , I shortened this argument to a slogan: quality needs diversity. I have used that slogan often since then, and I still utter it with conviction.
As academics, we love to intellectualise. Transformation and diversity, however, are not just matters for fine speeches, long policy documents, and never-ending committee meetings. There needs to be results. And these results should show evidence of progress as regards some key indicators. Here are some sample indicators we used in my time:
The percentage of the total student population (undergraduate and postgraduate) who are Black/Coloured/Indian. A word of explanation is immediately necessary as regards this terminology. Post-apartheid South Africa still officially classifies all citizens, and therefore all students, as being in one of four groups: African Black, ‘Cape Coloured’, Indian/Asian, or White. The term ‘Coloured’, in South Africa, does not carry quite the same connotations as for example in the UK or USA. Sometimes ‘Brown’ is used as an alternative term for ‘Coloured’, and some ‘brown’ people self-identify as such, but many do not. ‘Coloured’ and ‘brown’ are both contested terms, and those people who do not wish to use either often refer to ‘so-called Coloureds’, with or without quotation marks. Many so-called Coloured people insist on being considered black. ‘Generic black’, or just ‘black’ is often used as a collective term for African Black, ‘Coloured’ and Indian/Asian, and I will do the same here. My understanding is that universities still officially report their diversity figures under the four headings of Black/Coloured/Indian/White.
The percentage of full-time permanent academic staff who are Black/Coloured/Indian. It is important to look at academic staff (that is, employees who would be referred to as ‘faculty’ in the USA) rather than all staff, first because the university is an academic institution, and second because the composition of the total staff complement would be influenced by the fact that most non-academic staff members amongst the lowest payclasses (cleaners, gardeners, etc) would be black.
The percentage of Senate members who are Black/Coloured/Indian. In South African universities the academic Senate includes all full Professors (which is not the case in other countries where I have worked). Senate membership is therefore a good indicator of academic seniority, and the composition of Senate is a good indicator of the level of diversity amongst senior academics.
The percentage of Senate members who are women.
In my farewell address of 2007 I gave the percentage for each of these diversity indicators, for each of the previous five years, as a record of progress during my time as Rector. Moreover, I applied a standard mathematical technique to the numbers, namely to fit a straight line to the data and use that to set possible targets five years aheadIt is important to realise that this technique does not amount to a prediction, nor does it yield a hard-and-fast target for the future. If you think the growth of diversity should be accelerated, you could fit a curve to the data that bends upwards, and conversely, if you thought growth would inevitably slow down you could fit a curve bending downward. A best-fit straight line projection is however a reasonable way of setting future targets., in line with the ambitions of what was then Vision 2012. As I said in that farewell lecture: ‘Given the growth curve in diversity numbers over the period 2001-2006Institutional statistics usually have a one-year time lag, because the numbers cannot be compiled until after the year has ended., if the university wishes to maintain at least this growth pattern – in other words do no worse over the next 5 years than over the previous 5 years – then what targets should it set for 2012?’.
Fifteen years later, for my keynote address at the Transformation Indaba, I found it instructive to compare the targets I had envisaged for 2012 with the numbers as they had actually turned out.
The percentage of Black/Coloured/Indian students was 19.7% in 2001, then 21.5% in 2002, 23.7% in 2003, 25.7% in 2004, 27.5% in 2005 and 28.3% in 2006. A best-fit straight line through these data points showed that if this growth could be sustained a target of 39.7% by 2012 should be attainable. As it turned out, however, that target was only reached (more or less) by 2016, when the percentage was 39.4%. The latest available percentage (2021) is 45.3%.
The percentage of full-time permanent academic staff who were Black/Coloured/Indian was 7.7% in 2001, going up per year to 8.9%, 10.5%, 11.2%, 12.4% and then 13.9% by 2006. Sustaining such growth meant aiming for a target of 21% by 2012. By 2018, however, the percentage was only 19.9% – or 22.6%, depending on who you count.There are two slightly complicating technical factors with calculating these percentages. One is how to deal with unknown or withheld classifications. The other is that besides the four categories of African Black/Coloured/Indian/White, the university now also uses a category called ‘International’, and apparently international staff are neither white nor black. The intention, presumably, is to do the racial classification only for South African staff. In this case the 2018 percentage of known South African Black/Coloured/Indian staff amongst all staff, including ‘International’, ‘Unknown’ and ‘Withheld’, is 19.9%. If staff classified as ‘International’, ‘Unknown’ or ‘Witheld’ are first excluded from the total, leaving a total of only South African staff for which their racial classification is known, then the percentage of Black/Coloured/Indian staff from that total rises to the slightly better-looking 22.6%. By 2022 this percentage had risen to 24.4%, or 27.5%, on the alternative counting.
The percentage of Senate members who were Black/Coloured/Indian in 2002 was tiny – only 4.9%. From memory I would estimate the size of Senate at that time as somewhere between 250 – 300 members, so we are only talking about 13 -15 people. Still, by 2006 the percentage had improved to 7.1%, and fitting the usual straight line led me to believe (in 2007) that a target of 12% by 2012 should be attainable. Here progress was a little closer to expectation, because by 2015 the percentage was 13.9%. By 2022 it had risen to 23.3%.
As regards women on Senate, the percentage was a modest 8% in 2002. This grew to 13.6% in 2003 (by the simple expedient, if I remember correctly, of encouraging women to apply for promotion to a professorship), then 15.9%, 16.8% and 17.6% in 2006. This growth pattern meant that a target of 32.3% of women on Senate should have been attainable by 2012. In actual fact the percentage by 2015 was only 22.5%, and this year, 2022, it is only 32.8%.These unsophisticated figures must of course be read against the fact that the theoretically ideal percentage of women professors on Senate is 50%, not 100%.
Even though these numbers are rather unsophisticated, they give enough of an idea of the growth rate of student and staff diversity at SU to yield food for thought. The most obvious observation is that what I thought in 2007 should be reasonable and attainable targets for 2012 were, by and large, not met until years later. It would be worth reflecting on why that is so.
Of course it is possible that the targets I envisaged were too optimistic, and/or that there was an initial ‘small numbers’ effect which meant that the growth curve would bend downwards over time. Another hypothesis, however, would be that the impetus for transformation simply slackened. I do not know whether this is the case, but one way to address the question would be to do some benchmarking. Presumably historical data such as the above appear in the public domain, and would be available for all South African universities. With such data it would not be difficult to develop a ‘diversity growth curve’ for each university, which would give a reasonable idea of how universities compare to each other as regards the tempo of change over the past (say) twenty years. That would give SU a good idea of its performance in this respect. If such a study has not been done yet, I think it would make a nice project for an enterprising postgraduate student.
But transformation is not just a numbers game. It is also – and perhaps primarily – a mind game.
It was clear to me from the outset that transformation at Stellenbosch would have to involve a change of consciousness. Most university towns develop over time a certain self-image, and Stellenbosch was a prime example. Some of the fundamental ideas of a ‘Matie culture’, however, seemed to me anachronistic. An overview article I wrote for Anatomy of a Transformer made this point succinctly in its title, ‘Transformation as demythologisation’, and at some length in its content. As a relative outsiderI had actually been employed at Stellenbosch before, as a lecturer and senior lecturer in mathematics from 1979 to 1985. However, I am not an alumnus of SU, and I was the first Rector ever to be appointed from outside the university. I had also never been a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, as a number of my predecessors were, nor had I ever belonged to any of the Afrikaner/Afrikaans cultural organisations. (See also endnote 17 below.) it seemed to me worth identifying and addressing these underpinning cultural ideas as part of the transformation process.
There was, first, a myth of paradise: that Stellenbosch, town and university, was as close to heaven as was possible on earth. There are two obvious problems with this view. The first is that if you think Stellenbosch is paradise, then you are also very likely to think that any change can only be for the worse. That is a strong disincentive to transformation. The second problem was that paradise is of course only for the elect. Essentially, therefore, the myth of paradise was a white myth. If you lived in the Coloured or black areas of Ida’s Valley, Cloetesville or Kayamandi it was not entirely likely that you would share the view of Stellenbosch as paradise.
Secondly, there was a myth of historical excellence, prevalent amongst alumni and the Afrikaans community at large: that Stellenbosch university had long been one of the top universities in the world, and was innately excellent. As with the myth of paradise, the myth of excellence saw transformation as a risk, that ‘standards will drop’. Actually, standards – particularly in research – had historically not been very high, and needed to be improved. In fact, the university had over time had a couple of rude awakenings, such as the Reynhardt analysis of 1982Details can be found in ‘Transformation as demythologisation’, Anatomy of a Transformer p.8. , the first results of the National Research Foundation rating system, and the advent of the global university rankings. The simple fact of the matter is that excellence at SU, as at any other university, is attained only by continuous and unremitting hard work. Excellence was (and is) not an innate quality. Overall, Stellenbosch University is in my view a better academic institution today than it was a few decades ago. Far from standards dropping as a result of transformation, I believe there is a case to be made for claiming that such transformation as has already been achieved is part of the improvement in academic quality.
Thirdly, at the university I entered in 2002 there was a pervasive myth of power and authority: that the natural ordering of people’s social and professional interactions was hierarchical, a matter of superiors and inferiors, and that the inferiors should know their place. As a way of running a university, particularly one with some aspiration towards transformation, this seemed to me suboptimal.
The paradox was that in a cultural milieu of hierarchy, if the person at the top says we should be less hierarchical, that is immediately interpreted as an order.
Finally, one of the main cultural characteristics I encountered at Stellenbosch was the myth of ownership: that Stellenbosch, town and university, in a very tangible sense belonged to a traditional constituency of Afrikaners and (in a more recent twist) Afrikaans speakers. This was made clear to me very early on. I remember, for example, attending a social event organised by the alumni organisation of one of the oldest koshuise shortly after my arrival. (A koshuis is a student hall of residence.) My host, the chair of that particular organisation, publicly welcomed the new Rector, and acknowledged that change was in the offing. ‘But just remember, Professor’, he said, turning to me, ‘this is our place’. Around the middle of my Rectorship it became necessary to address this myth head-on, which I did in an address to Convocation titled ‘Whose place is this?’Anatomy of a Transformer, pp. 115-118. That at least brought the issue out into the open, though it did not solve it.
The myth of ownership was particularly relevant in the so-called taaldebat (language debate) about the role of Afrikaans at SU, which demanded a great deal of my time during my Rectorship and rumbled on for long afterwards. For the Transformation Indaba I did not intend to say much about Afrikaans as one of the issues of transformation, but I felt I could not entirely ignore the matter either. I therefore only referred briefly to an article I had recently published giving my reflections on the taaldebat.Chris Brink: ‘Nabetragting oor die taaldebat’, Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe 62(2) pp. 412-424, tgwsak.co.za. That article was prompted by my understanding that the language conflict at SU, as I had experienced it, had finally subsided. At this point of my address, however, I could see some headshaking and disbelief in the audience, particularly from black people. My throwaway remark that the taaldebat was over was evidently not believed. Some interactions with the audience, and also with individuals during the tea-break, have therefore led me to qualify that view. The taaldebat as I experienced it, and as I referenced it, had been a long-running attempt to establish some kind of de jure dispensation for Afrikaans as an integral part of the university – ‘n vaste plek vir Afrikaans (a fixed place for Afrikaans). While that particular campaign may well now be consigned to history, the audience at the Indaba made it clear to me that the issue of Afrikaans as a de facto dominant dispensation at the university is far from over.
It is worth interpolating a point here which I did not have time to make at the Indaba, but which has long bothered me about governance at South African universities. Issues of transformation – and at SU particularly issues of the taaldebat – often spill over into Council, which is the ultimate governing body of the university. There is then a feature of South African university Councils which complicates the resolution of thorny issues, namely that Council membership is defined on a constituency basis. That is, in South Africa most members of a university Council become members through being nominated to that position by a particular constituency, such as the alumni, or the donors, or the local City Council. There are two difficulties with this arrangement. First, it makes no provision to ensure that Council is endowed with the necessary skills to do its job. A university is a big organisation, typically with an annual budget of a few billion Rand, and its governing body needs members with adequate expertise of different kinds, such as in finance, investment, audit and risk management, legal matters, public relations, estate management, etc. In other countries where I have worked, Council renews itself according to a skills matrix, making sure that it always has members with the necessary skills to cover its fiduciary and governance duties. In South Africa, however, there is no such provision: Council is populated by whoever is sent to it by various constituencies, no matter what the interests, expertise, or lack of expertise of those new members are. It is a rather haphazard arrangement.
Second, and very relevant to governance issues related to transformation, defining Council on a constituency basis allows Council members to believe that their job on Council is to represent the constituency that placed them there. This, in my view, is contrary to best practice. Good governance requires a clear understanding by every Council member that the moment you sit down in a Council meeting you should take off the hat of any other organisation or constituency you might belong to, and put the interests of the university first. In the absence of such an understanding, Council easily becomes a kind of mini-Parliament, with various factions pushing various agendas, making those their priority. The university then becomes a means to an end. This is a particular problem in the case of single-issue activism, such as when the Convocation of SU, representing mainly the alumni, became the main protagonist in the taaldebat. It came to the point (well after my time) where Convocation actually took the university to court – an unprecedented occurrence in my experience.
Returning now to my address at the Transformation Indaba: In view of the impending report of the Khampepe Commission, I felt it worth spending some time on one particularly prominent aspect of the ‘Matie culture’, namely the culture in the student halls of residence – the koshuiskultuur. I use an umbrella term for the collective phenomenon, but it should be noted that each koshuis, particularly the older ones, actively fostered and maintained a subculture of its own. The main tool for perpetuating a koshuiskultuur, in my time, was the practice of ontgroening. This word is usually translated into English as ‘initiation’, but the translation does not nearly capture the connotations of the Afrikaans word. The basic premise was that newly-arrived students are ‘green’ – that is, ignorant of Stellenbosch university culture and koshuis ways, and incapable of learning by themselves. They therefore have to be ‘de-greened’, a process carried out by senior students, who were automatically assumed to have authority over the new arrivals – a particular manifestation of the myth of power and authority. The de-greening process, with little exception, consisted of various forms of ritual humiliation, lasting for most of the first year of study. There are many examples, varying from one koshuis to the other, and old-timers would be able to tell many stories. It would make an interesting anthropological project to document them. For present purposes, by way of illustration, one anecdote should suffice. I was aghast to find, in January 2002, that new first-year male students, dressed in dark Sunday suits, were literally marched in military formation from one venue to the other for the various activities of their ‘welcoming’ programme. (This when the temperature in Stellenbosch at the end of January is often around 40 degrees Celsius.) When I enquired about the purpose of this activity, I was told that it was necessary because the new students would not know where to go. When I looked into the matter further, it turned out that the pamphlet outlining the ‘welcoming’ programme included all sorts of details, but lacked a campus map.
Far from the rituals of ontgroening being met with resistance by new students, many of them were willing participants. This was a feature of Stellenbosch University to which they had already been acculturalised at home, through elder siblings or friends, parents, or relatives. Ontgroening was seen as a rite of passage in becoming a fully-fledged Matie.Stellenbosch students have long been known as Maties. It was also a Faustian bargain: you would subject yourself to a year of inferiority and humiliation, in order that in your senior years you might exercise superiority and mete out such humiliation yourself. The university’s attitude to these practices, as I found it, was one of benign indulgence. Officially there were only ‘welcoming ceremonies’ at SU, but the euphemism fooled no one. There was also a large and formidable rule book prohibiting specific forms of ontgroening, but in practice it was condoned and even glossed over as studentepret (harmless student fun).
I was dead against ontgroening, on principle. More important than my own personal views, however, was the fact that ontgroening, and the entire koshuiskultuur in general, was a significant obstacle to increasing diversity and promoting transformation. The number of black students (actually almost exclusively Coloured) admitted to the white koshuiseIn the apartheid days Stellenbosch University had actually started a ‘Coloured’ koshuis as well, situated a discreet distance away from central campus. at that time was very small: maybe half a dozen or so in a koshuis of over a hundred students. These students were thrown in at the deep end of a culture they found alien and threatening, and to which they were expected to conform.
I made my position clear even before I arrived at Stellenbosch. In a pamphlet titled ‘My standpunt oor ontgroening’ (‘My position on initiation’)Anatomy of a Transformer, pp. 52-55. dated 17 October 2001 I said flatly that ‘Ontgroening is a form of structural violence’. True welcoming, I said, is something that we do for new students, but ontgroening as something that is done to them. In view of current discussions on the culture of the residences at SU it is perhaps worth quoting what I said in that pamphlet more than twenty years ago.
Structural violence takes place when the structures and processes of the University itself are used by the incumbents to exercise power over newcomers in order to enforce conformity. Such use of university structures is morally indefensible, because it is a violation of personal freedom. It is not appropriate to the character of a university, which strives for freedom of thought, association and speech. … But this endeavour [of increasing diversity] can bear fruit only if we receive new Maties from under-represented groups in a way that is acceptable to them, and within a context in which they feel comfortable. It will serve no purpose to insist that these newcomers (whether students or staff) must simply adjust to the way things have always been done at Stellenbosch. Part of the process of mutual enrichment is precisely that we need to learn from those who come from outside. … We must realise that what incumbents may regard as humorous or fun, or as activities intended to promote residence spirit, newcomers and especially new Maties from under-represented groups may experience as culturally unfamiliar, insulting, or even threatening.
Although the language is now somewhat dated, I believe the message has stood the test of time. It is worth reflecting to what extent it remains relevant today.
Sending out a strong message is one thing, getting results is another. I thought the official rule-based approach against ontgroening had proved to be entirely ineffective. Students are endlessly inventive, and whatever ritual was banned today would be superseded tomorrow. Rather than making more rules, it seemed to me that a values-based approach was worth trying. In the end this came down to a campaign to promote just three fundamental values:
No infringement of human dignity.
The values-based campaign had a moderate amount of successIbid, p.10., but it was, and from what I understand still remains today, a Sisyphean task. I faced some pushback from students (and alumni) who agitated for the preservation of what they called ‘traditions’, but I never heard any argument sufficiently persuasive to make me change my mind. It is interesting to observe that in my time many students were agitating against various forms of transformation, whereas today I understand many are agitating for it. Perhaps there has been a mind shift after all – and perhaps this mind shift is not unrelated to increased diversity.
Koshuiskultuur also showed various unpleasant manifestations of a toxic masculinity. These were sometimes a matter of too much alcohol, but mostly it was a matter of too much testosterone. I remember, for example, the ‘air-gun incident’. A couple of male students were sitting in the window of their residence room, not drunk or hyped up about anything, just bored. So they alleviated their boredom by casually taking pot shots with an air gun at the legs of passing female students. An air gun shoots lead pellets, with some force. It will not kill you, but it will hurt you, and it will certainly break unprotected skin. The females understandably lodged a complaint, and the matter became public. In this case, as in other situations of student misdemeanour, I found that a powerful support structure of parents and alumni manifested itself as soon as the perpetrators faced disciplinary proceedings. If and when necessary, experienced lawyers would defend these students, experts of various kinds could offer testimony, money could be found, and indulgent letters could be written to Afrikaans newspapers (which would publish them).
In my view the koshuise were the locus of continuity of a romanticised Matie culture which was increasingly anachronistic. If anything like that is still the case, I hope SU will be able to address an important matter which I myself never got to grapple with to my own satisfaction, namely the koshuisplasingsbeleid – the residence placement policy.
It is a simple observation that koshuiskultuur has a lot to do with who gets admitted to a koshuis, under what conditions they gain entry, and for how long they stay there. That means that the koshuisplasingsbeleid is a crucial underpinning factor in residence culture. In my time, the policy was simple: entry into a koshuis was almost entirely based on school-leaving results, perhaps supplemented by family history (whether you had parents or elder siblings who had also been in that particular koshuis). Competition for a koshuis place was very strong, because it was considered to be an essential part of becoming a real Matie. ‘Merit’ was the determining factor for admission – forgetting that the ‘merit’ under consideration was usually gained from a position of privilege.
This policy led to consequences inimical to growing the diversity of the student population. A student with affluent parents (possibly alumni themselves), living in Stellenbosch, who had had all the advantages of a ‘good school’, and therefore good school-leaving results, would be awarded a koshuis place above an impecunious student from a disadvantaged background outside Stellenbosch who went to a challenged school, defied the odds to gain university admission, and would have benefited immeasurably from on-campus accommodation. Moreover, once a student had been admitted into a koshuis, they could more or less stay there as long as they kept on studying. These senior students then became the guardians of the koshuiskultuur, ensuring its continuation.
My experience elsewhere in this regard has been almost the exact opposite of the Stellenbosch policy. Academic merit is of course a pillar of any good university, but such merit was not considered a relevant criterion in determining a place in university accommodation. The determining factor for admission into a student residence was who would benefit most from it. At Newcastle University, for example, every new student admitted to the university (mostly from elsewhere) was guaranteed a place in a university residence, should they wish it – but for one year only. If a benefit-based residence placement policy can work elsewhere in the world, I see no reason why it could not work in Stellenbosch.
In preparing for my keynote address at the Transformation Indaba I learned that the residence placement policy at SU is currently under review, and I used the opportunity to urge the Indaba that a new policy could be a strong lever for advancing transformation, rather than retarding it. A place in a university residence is essentially a resource, not a reward, and as a resource it can be deployed towards the strategic objective of greater diversity.
I concluded my address with some reflections on legacy issues from a racist past. For a transformation indaba I believe such acknowledgment of our past is necessary, not only lest we forget, but also lest we underestimate the continuing effects of this legacy. The close and symbiotic relationship between Stellenbosch University and apartheid in its heyday was neatly captured by a distant predecessor of mine, Professor HB Thom, Rector from 1954 to 1969 (and Chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond from 1952 to 1960At one point in my keynote address I said that I was the first Rector of Stellenbosch University who had not been a member of the Broederbond, but I realised afterwards that I only have evidence for this claim going back as far as HB Thom. I have not been able to ascertain one way or the other whether Thom’s predecessor as Rector, RW Wilcocks, was or was not a member of the Broederbond, and likewise for Wilcocks’s predecessors. (For SU leadership since 1918 see Su leaders over 100 years.) I also said that all my predecessors as Rector were ‘senior leaders’ of the Broederbond, but although this is true for some it is not verified for others. I am grateful to Aryan Kaganof, curator/editor of herri, for agreeing to my request to insert a qualifying note about this claim at the appropriate point in my speech. ), who characterised SU as a Volksuniversiteit, the volk being the white Afrikaners as represented by the political powers of the day. For HB Thom this was no doubt a positive expression of identity.
Others might well have agreed that Stellenbosch University was the intellectual home of apartheid, but did not see that as a positive.
From the ‘Coloured’ neigbourhood of Ida’s Valley, for example, emanated the characterisation of Stellenbosch university as ‘the maternity ward of apartheid’. By Rev Simon Adams, pastor of the ‘Coloured’ Volkskerk van Afrika – see Anatomy of a Transformer p. 239. In my own time, the favoured characterisation of Stellenbosch University by its insiders was as ‘the Athens of the South’ – discreetly suppressing an adjective used in an earlier version: the white Athens of the South. The use of the adjective ‘white’ was still extant in my time. I once had to have it removed from a koshuis pamphlet. The intended analogy was, of course, with the ancient Athens of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, as a city of intellectual contemplation, with the vineyards of Stellenbosch in place of the olive groves of Plato’s Academy.
This analogy was perhaps more apt than its adherents realised, since ancient Athens, for all the intellectualism of its elite, and all its professions of freedom, was a society based on slave labour.
My question to the audience at the Transformation Indaba was whether Stellenbosch University would consider a project to document, honestly, comprehensively and with historical accuracy, its role and participation in apartheid. Such a study would seem to me not only a worthwhile academic project, but an essential step in addressing the legacy issues from a racist past. If the project could deal not only with large-scale policy issues, but serve as a kind of autobiography of the Volksuniversiteit and its evolution into the university of today, and if it could document the lived experience of people (many of whom are still alive) who knew Stellenbosch from outside the leafy white campus, it may be a powerful booster of transformation. I acknowledge that such a project would require an exceptional historian, or team of historians, because sufficient cultural understanding of Afrikaans and Afrikaner thinking would have to combine with sufficient psychological and sociological understanding (and perhaps personal experience) of the pain, humiliation and deprivation suffered under apartheid, knowing that each of these kinds of knowledge would tend to bring with it some unconscious bias. What I have seen so far of history-writing about the University of Stellenbosch does not seem to me to meet both these criteria.
SU deserves some credit for its current attempt to acknowledge legacy issues from its past. This acknowledgment takes the shape of a ‘Restitution Statement’, first published in 2018, which reads as follows:
Stellenbosch University (SU) acknowledges its inextricable connection with generations past, present and future. In the 2018 Centenary Year, SU celebrates its many successes and achievements. SU simultaneously acknowledges its contribution towards the injustices of the past. For this we have deep regret. We apologise unreservedly to the communities and individuals who were excluded from the historical privileges that SU enjoyed and we honour the critical Matie voices of the time who would not be silenced. In responsibility towards the present and future generations, SU commits itself unconditionally to the ideal of an inclusive world-class university in and for Africa.
Still, when I read this statement, I wonder whether it will suffice.
The statement does not mention apartheid, it does not mention racism, and it gives no indication that the university had been complicit in either.
It says ‘we apologise unreservedly’, but it is presented as a ‘Restitution Statement’, not an ‘Apology’. The apology is offered for injustices of the past, but it does not specify what the university itself had done wrong, nor does it acknowledge any injustices of the present.
If we are to accept this ‘Restitution Statement’ the way it is offered, the question would be: what is the actual restitution on offer?
There is an obvious answer to this question. If the apology goes towards those who were excluded from SU in the past, then surely the best way to make restitution would be to bring to Stellenbosch those from the same communities who are excluded from SU at present. The numbers I quoted above state the issue quite clearly. The inescapable fact is that almost 30 years after the end of apartheid, and 20 years after embarking on the transformation road, in a country where more than 90% of the population are (generic) black, SU remains a university where around half the students and three-quarters of the academics are white.
In reflecting on transformation at Stellenbosch University, therefore, I conclude that many of the concerns of twenty years ago are still concerns today. Also, what I said at the Transformation Indaba seems to me entirely congruent with what appeared a week later in the Report of the Khampepe Commission.The Report of the Khampepe Commission can be downloaded from here. This is not to say that I have second sight. I think it just illustrates that the main issues of transformation at Stellenbosch would seem fairly clear to anybody with a balance of knowledge and distance. The intention of transformation at SU is captured in impressive documents, articulating various policies and strategies. That is welcome, but I think it is not enough. The intention is not as good as the deed. Paper is patient, but people are not. The question remains today as it was at the time I left Stellenbosch fifteen years ago: what results can we show of the transformation agenda?
|1.||↑||The video made of my keynote address at the Transformation Indaba unfortunately did not include the powerpoint slides I used, which were displayed on large screens in the venue, and which were an integral part of my presentation. I am much indebted to Aryan Kaganof, curator/editor of herri, for retrofitting my powerpoint slides to the original video.|
|2.||↑||Amanda Botha (Ed.): Chris Brink, Anatomy of a Transformer, SUN Press Stellenbosch, 2007. Available for download as a pdf document here. (In Afrikaans: Chris Brink, Anatomie van ‘n Omvormer, here.)|
|3.||↑||At the Rhodes Trust Centenary Reunion, 29 January 2003. Anatomy of a Transformer pp. 82-87.|
|4.||↑||It is important to realise that this technique does not amount to a prediction, nor does it yield a hard-and-fast target for the future. If you think the growth of diversity should be accelerated, you could fit a curve to the data that bends upwards, and conversely, if you thought growth would inevitably slow down you could fit a curve bending downward. A best-fit straight line projection is however a reasonable way of setting future targets.|
|5.||↑||Institutional statistics usually have a one-year time lag, because the numbers cannot be compiled until after the year has ended.|
|6.||↑||There are two slightly complicating technical factors with calculating these percentages. One is how to deal with unknown or withheld classifications. The other is that besides the four categories of African Black/Coloured/Indian/White, the university now also uses a category called ‘International’, and apparently international staff are neither white nor black. The intention, presumably, is to do the racial classification only for South African staff. In this case the 2018 percentage of known South African Black/Coloured/Indian staff amongst all staff, including ‘International’, ‘Unknown’ and ‘Withheld’, is 19.9%. If staff classified as ‘International’, ‘Unknown’ or ‘Witheld’ are first excluded from the total, leaving a total of only South African staff for which their racial classification is known, then the percentage of Black/Coloured/Indian staff from that total rises to the slightly better-looking 22.6%.|
|7.||↑||These unsophisticated figures must of course be read against the fact that the theoretically ideal percentage of women professors on Senate is 50%, not 100%.|
|8.||↑||I had actually been employed at Stellenbosch before, as a lecturer and senior lecturer in mathematics from 1979 to 1985. However, I am not an alumnus of SU, and I was the first Rector ever to be appointed from outside the university. I had also never been a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, as a number of my predecessors were, nor had I ever belonged to any of the Afrikaner/Afrikaans cultural organisations. (See also endnote 17 below.)|
|9.||↑||Details can be found in ‘Transformation as demythologisation’, Anatomy of a Transformer p.8.|
|10.||↑||Anatomy of a Transformer, pp. 115-118.|
|11.||↑||Chris Brink: ‘Nabetragting oor die taaldebat’, Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe 62(2) pp. 412-424, tgwsak.co.za.|
|12.||↑||There are many examples, varying from one koshuis to the other, and old-timers would be able to tell many stories. It would make an interesting anthropological project to document them. For present purposes, by way of illustration, one anecdote should suffice. I was aghast to find, in January 2002, that new first-year male students, dressed in dark Sunday suits, were literally marched in military formation from one venue to the other for the various activities of their ‘welcoming’ programme. (This when the temperature in Stellenbosch at the end of January is often around 40 degrees Celsius.) When I enquired about the purpose of this activity, I was told that it was necessary because the new students would not know where to go. When I looked into the matter further, it turned out that the pamphlet outlining the ‘welcoming’ programme included all sorts of details, but lacked a campus map.|
|13.||↑||Stellenbosch students have long been known as Maties.|
|14.||↑||In the apartheid days Stellenbosch University had actually started a ‘Coloured’ koshuis as well, situated a discreet distance away from central campus.|
|15.||↑||Anatomy of a Transformer, pp. 52-55.|
|17.||↑||At one point in my keynote address I said that I was the first Rector of Stellenbosch University who had not been a member of the Broederbond, but I realised afterwards that I only have evidence for this claim going back as far as HB Thom. I have not been able to ascertain one way or the other whether Thom’s predecessor as Rector, RW Wilcocks, was or was not a member of the Broederbond, and likewise for Wilcocks’s predecessors. (For SU leadership since 1918 see Su leaders over 100 years.) I also said that all my predecessors as Rector were ‘senior leaders’ of the Broederbond, but although this is true for some it is not verified for others. I am grateful to Aryan Kaganof, curator/editor of herri, for agreeing to my request to insert a qualifying note about this claim at the appropriate point in my speech.|
|18.||↑||By Rev Simon Adams, pastor of the ‘Coloured’ Volkskerk van Afrika – see Anatomy of a Transformer p. 239.|
|19.||↑||The use of the adjective ‘white’ was still extant in my time. I once had to have it removed from a koshuis pamphlet.|
|20.||↑||The Report of the Khampepe Commission can be downloaded from here.|