Cape Town - Stellenbosch University’s student representative council has called for an audit of all residences after a shocking discovery last week of two hidden rooms at the Wilgenhof residence where punishment was allegedly meted out to male students who fell foul of an informal disciplinary committee.
SRC President, Phiwokuhle Qabaka said despite news reports on the weekend that the council had known about the existence of the two rooms at Wilgenhof, since at least 2020, the current leadership was never informed.
Qabaka in response said: “We looked at the minutes (when the discovery was made in March 2020), none of the current SRC was in office. This was four years ago. (At the time) this was raised with the management of the university and the Centre for Student Affairs.
“What we were told this year, as all of this was unfolding, was that there had been an investigation that took place, it was quite a lengthy one, and there was a report written after the investigation.
“That report was not shared with us,” said Qabaka.
Last week, following the discovery of the two rooms during an audit of the residence, the university announced that it had set up a panel to probe the goings-on at the Wilgenhof residence.
The panel will consist of the university’s Deputy Registrar of Governance, Ethics and Compliance, an experienced independent Advocate from the Cape Bar and a former experienced university executive in higher education, who will review the items and advise on the next steps. The panel will be asked to submit its report by the end of February.
The probe and subsequent repaint come following claims of abuse at the residence.
SU Rector, Professor Wim de Villiers, has further moved to assure staff, students and parents that the university is attending to the matter with the seriousness it deserves within the approved policies and practices of the institution.
The university’s spokesperson Martin Viljoens said the issues at Wilgenhof were no secret. What prompted the panel probe was the extent of the material which had been discovered during the audit.
“The fact that there have been issues at Wilgenhof is not news. It’s not as if (university) management is denying any of that. The issue is the contents which were found in those rooms. That’s what the panel is looking at,” said Viljoen.
Videos on social media show two rooms, painted in black, and littered with contrasting graffiti in white paint with “disturbing” materials, including a drawing of three characters dressed in hoods.
“We found out, on the 24th of January when our deputy (president) was called in, and then were taken through the residence and told everything, and they showed us some pictures,” said Qabaka.
She said the true extent of the shocking scenes at the residence was still not known to the SRC because very little information, particularly pictures had been shared by the university’s management.
“What we’d like to see, as an SRC, is that the current House Committee (at Wilgenhof) is not allowed to perform any welcoming activities for First Years because at this point we don’t know who to trust,” said Qabaka.
According to the SRC, there had been complaints from students staying at the residence as recently as last year, and Qabaka said it was important that whistleblowers had to be protected from intimidation.