Cape Town - Following the installation of human rights lawyer and retired Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron as Stellenbosch University (SU) chancellor, hundreds of students protested against what they called institutionalised racism festering on its campus.
About 300 protesters, supported by the Student Representative Council (SRC), SA Student Congress (Sasco), and EFF Student Command (EEFSC) gathered on Thursday to hand over a memorandum of demands under the #RacismMustFall Stellenbosch University Student Movement banner.
The movement said SU not only produced the founders of apartheid, with graduates including Hendrik Verwoerd, DF Malan and FW de Klerk, but it also produced apartheid policies that oppressed black people after 1948 when the National Party came to power.
Video footage of a white student, Theuns du Toit, urinating inside the room and on the desk of a black student, Babalo Ndwayana, has caused national outrage.
Ndwayana opened cases of housebreaking, malicious damage to property and crimen injuria on Tuesday at Stellenbosch police.
The movement called for the establishment of an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Committee (IRTC) focused on racism, the expulsion of Du Toit and the dissolution of the Huis Marais House Committee.
Justice Cameron became the university’s 15th chancellor on Wednesday evening. Cameron assumed office in January 2020, but the official ceremony was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the ceremony, Cameron said: “We deserve a university – to return to the rector’s theme – that is free of the disrespect and hatred and degradation that were manifested in the ghastly incident at Huis Marais on Sunday, when a white student, Theuns du Toit, urinated on the study materials of a black student, Babalo Ndwayana.
“All these things are what our national sense of dignity and self-worth entitles us to object against, to claim better.”
Meeting with the rector and Cameron earlier, the SRC said members wouldn’t be attending the ceremony, when there is so much pain on the campus.
Cameron said he respected their decision as a matter of deep principle.
SU rector and vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers said a significant part of Cameron’s legal career was dedicated to using the law, apartheid’s oppressive instrument, to work against apartheid.
“There is absolutely no place for bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, violence, victimisation, damage of property, gender-based violence, and certainly no place for racism on our campus,” Villiers said, addressing protesters outside the Admin B building on campus.
“Because this campus belongs to all who study and work here, inclusivity and a welcoming spirit is and must to the best of our intents, continue to be the Stellenbosch way.
“We need to protect the dignity and rights of everyone who is a part of our SU community, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, background or social standing.”
Student Ishmael Mabena said: “I am offended. You come here and all you say is I’m sorry there’s no place for racism – we know. Don't tell us what we want to hear. First of all, they haven't said if he’s expelled.”
Over 150 000 South Africans have signed a petition calling for the expulsion of the first year law student, Du Toit.
SU student and anti-racism activist Anke Spies created a change.org petition, garnering over 100 000 signatures within 72 hours.
A rally against racism is to be held this afternoon at 5pm at Rooiplein, at SU’s main campus. The petition will be handed to the Student Discipline Office.
Spies created the petition on Monday after finding out that Du Toit was only suspended.
“I did not think this was justified punishment considering what he had done; he had violated another student’s human rights. I felt that I had to take action to advocate for justice, especially because this event took place in a university with a reputation for ignoring racism,” Spies said.
Spies said the students were dissatisfied by the feedback given by the university.
ANC leader in the Western Cape Legislature, Cameron Dugmore, met with Ndwanyana and his father on Wednesday, to show support and find a way forward.
Dugmore said a conscious programme of anti-racism among students and staff was needed and he called for the immediate expulsion of Du Toit.
SU is investigating another alleged incident that occurred at the Law Dance on May 12, when racist remarks were allegedly made towards a female student.
“University authorities are in discussion with individuals, attendees of the dance, faculty leadership and student representatives to ascertain the facts at hand, as well as (gathering) more information about the formal complaint by the affected student,” SU said in a statement.