Stellenbosch University’s controversial Wilgenhof Residence ‘should be closed’

Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) Wilgenhof Residence

Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) Wilgenhof Residence

Published Jun 13, 2024


The decision on the future of Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) Wilgenhof Residence now lies with Council after the Rectorate unanimously agreed on its closure.

This comes after a scathing 151-page report dated June 10 – following the discovery of two secret rooms –that recommended the residence be permanently closed. According to the report, a number of experts and key staff members of SU conveyed the strong view to the panel that Wilgenhof as an institution is irremediable.

“Wilgenhof is seen, especially by black staff and students, as a beacon of SU’s troubled and racist history rather than a symbol of change and progress.

They see the continued existence of Wilgenhof as an indication of the university’s refusal to take transformation and change seriously. The panel was consequently confronted with the views of diverse stakeholders of the university who unanimously seek the closure of Wilgenhof as the only viable option,” the report read.

The panel also received the views of current Wilgenhoffers who were against the action, stating the closure would be a mistake as the residence was “misunderstood” and made a number of suggestions, including changing its name through an “inclusive process”.

However, the panel held the view that against the long history of resistance to change and reform at Wilgenhof, which has brought SU to this point, it has to be permanently closed.

“Taking such a decisive step would send a clear message to present and past students of SU, conveying the institution’s commitment to break from the past in favour of change and transformation. This counteracts the perception that SU generates many policies and values, but they are empty gestures, because the university tends not to genuinely implement them.

“Transformation and renewal cannot be truly meaningful when there is no significant engagement with others representing the diverse demography of our country. The willingness to undertake such genuine engagement seems to be lacking at Wilgenhof, otherwise these objectionable Nagligte rituals and symbols could not have survived. Building a transformed SU and taking restorative action in pursuit of an inclusive university and residence entail being open to acknowledging one’s own shortcomings and privilege – this is not apparent in Wilgenhof’s culture or submissions to the panel,” the reported stated.

The panel chaired by Nick de Jager was appointed by the Rectorate to investigate disturbing contents found at the residence earlier this year during an audit of the spaces and amenities of the residence.

Vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers said: “Given the body of evidence presented by our expert panel, we have accepted its main recommendation that closure of the Wilgenhof residence is the appropriate action going forward.

This recommendation, on the recommendation of the panel, if accepted by Council, will result in the closure of Wilgenhof at the end of the 2024 academic year. Alternative uses of the space will be discussed with a view to be effected during 2025.”

Student Representative Council president Phiwokuhle Qabaka said this is what they hade been appealing for since the discovery earlier this year.

“We received the report and welcome the finding and recommendations. As the SRC we will do our part at Council so that a resolution is reached for the permanent closure,” said Qabaka.

Cape Times