SU Council will only know the way forward for controversial Wilgenhof after public inputs

The future of the controversial Stellenbosch University (SU) Wilgenhof Residence remains in limbo.

The future of the controversial Stellenbosch University (SU) Wilgenhof Residence remains in limbo.

Published Jun 26, 2024


The future of the controversial Stellenbosch University (SU) Wilgenhof Residence remains in limbo as the institution’s Council opted to open a public participation process which commences on Wednesday.

This was the outcome of Monday’s Council meeting following an extensive debate after the university's Rectorate unanimously agreed on the closure of Wilgenhof.

The Rector’s additional recommendation was that the building should be retained as an upgraded residence.

At the heart of the matter is a scathing 151-page report over two secret rooms that were found at Wilgenhof, that recommended the residence be permanently closed.

“The Council recognised that opinions on the future of Wilgenhof are deeply divided.

“This involves several issues including the interpretation of tradition and the need for all university practices to enable an inclusive university where all stakeholders feel they belong. These issues must be thoroughly considered in the interest of fairness, transparency, and administrative justice, aligned with SU’s vision and values.

“Against this background, the Council concluded that the Rector’s recommendation warrants further consultation and consideration,” said SU spokesperson Martin Viljoen.

The Council is inviting all interested, affected persons and stakeholders to submit written representations on issues that the closure or non-closure of Wilgenhof would raise and that would need to be considered.

“(This includes) whether there are alternatives to the closure of Wilgenhof that are reasonably likely to address the concerns set out in the Panel’s report and what these are.

“What Council should set as indicators for the success of these alternative measures. Council will not weigh the submissions based on quantities received on a particular issue but rather on the merits of what is raised,” said Viljoen.

Submissions can be made by no later than July 31, 5pm.

The recommendation of the closure of Wilgenhof has also received mixed views. Some see it as an institution that is a beacon of SU’s troubled and racist history rather than a symbol of change and progress.

Others believe the residence is “misunderstood” and suggested including changing its name through an “inclusive process”.

The Wilgenhof Alumni Association welcomed Council's decision to allow for an open and fair process regarding the future of the residence.

“Since the release of a substantially flawed report recommending the closure of the residence two weeks ago, we have expressed our profound misgivings about the report to the management and Council of SU, as ultimately it would be irrational to take a decision of such consequence based on incorrect or misleading findings. We have consistently called for a fair and thorough process during which all stakeholders, including current and former residents, can be given a proper chance to be heard. It is clear, up to this point, that many of these viewpoints have not been properly heard and considered. The Alumni Association therefore welcomes the call for further submissions.

“If the Council had voted to endorse such a flawed report, it would have set a very dangerous precedent by which any activities could be subject to extreme sanction on the basis of little to no evidence of harm, without allowing due process to be followed. Wilgenhof is not a place of ‘white supremacy’ as the report sensationally claims,” said the association.

A petition against the closure has also garnered more than 7 000 signatures.

Student Representative Council president Phiwokuhle Qabaka said they will be encouraging people to participate in the processes as they are calling for permanent closure.

Cape Times