Khampepe Commission report finds Stellenbosch University stuck in anti-transformation cycle

Hundreds of Stellenbosch University students gathered in protest over an alleged racist incident at the Huis Marais. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

Hundreds of Stellenbosch University students gathered in protest over an alleged racist incident at the Huis Marais. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 8, 2022


Durban - Stellenbosch University has conceded that despite its efforts, black staff and students do not feel welcome on campus. SU management says it will have to work hard to align its institutional commitments with what is happening in practice and at ground level.

SU Vice-Chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers, added that the findings of the Khampepe Commission was a tipping point.

“This is a sobering moment for the university. It is evident that black staff members and students do not feel welcome here, despite our deliberate transformation efforts to date.

“We must face the reality that there is a gap between our intentions with regards to various transformation initiatives and the implementation thereof,” he said.

De Villiers was speaking on the back of the release of the report by the commission, set up in June and chaired by retired Judge Sisi Khampepe.

The independent inquiry formulated recommendations on how SU can improve is racial diversity, equity and inclusion. Judge Khampepe’s conclusions were drawn from interviews with staff and students.

Witnesses were able to share their views on incidents that had taken place recently, including an incident at Huis Marais and the Faculty of Law’s dance.

The inquiry also delved into how SU’s intake of black students had increased over the years and gaps in systems used for reporting incidents.

Judge Khampepe called for SU to adopt a Transformation Charter that will be drawn up by various key stakeholders. She found that the university was stuck in an anti-transformation cycle.

“This charter ought to clarify what the university stands for and what measures are in place to hold it to its values. The process of creating the charter should be leveraged to spark university-wide discourse," she said.

She added that the Division of Student Affairs must play a greater role in designing the Welcoming Programme to ensure that it meets the needs of all incoming students with careful attention being given to students who are most likely to struggle with the adjustment to university life.

“I also recommend that attention be given to improving the Res Ed programme. I also endorse two recommendations made by the students in relation to the involvement of faculty transformation committees in student experience, both during the Welcoming Programme and in general.

“In this regard, I agree with students that faculty transformation committees should have a session during Welcoming where they engage with newcomers on current initiatives related to social justice and transformation,” Judge Khampepe said.

She also emphasised that there is no inherent prejudice in wanting to speak in one’s mother tongue, but context matters.

She called for a decisive change of leadership, beginning with the Residence Head and recommended that the new HC and Prim of Huis Marias undergo leadership training and mentorship to assist in reforming what is evidently a very toxic culture.

“In this regard, I would advise that Huis Marais partner with the Centre for the Study of Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest which offers excellent leadership development programmes with a focus on building cohesion in environments with a history of conflict,” she said.

“Finally, I recommend that Huis Marais’ culture be closely examined by the Division of Student Affairs with the intention of introducing long-term solutions that will reform Huis Marais as a community that represents and upholds the university's values.

“I would even recommend that the proposal of converting Huis Marais into a mixed residence be revisited. After all, the agreement that was signed in 2020 appears not to have accomplished desired ends,” Judge Khampepe said.

She added that the evidence exposes two polarised perceptions of the university.

“The one perceives the university as the final bastion of Afrikaans pride and heritage, which must be protected at all costs to safeguard that legacies of rights of the white, Afrikaans community.

“The other understands the university as exactly in the same place that it was during the apartheid era and perceives it as a hostile and unchanged environment for Black people.

“My conclusion at the end of an arduous and comprehensive inquiry, is that these perceptions are equally untrue.

“They are both influenced by the preconceived ideas of different groups of people with radically different histories, and indicate that much learning and introspection is needed,” Khampepe concluded.

De Villiers said although there is much in the report for the university to take heart from, specific fault lines have also been identified.

There is a lot of work to do across SU, in the interest of all students and staff, in the sincere spirit of being welcoming and inclusive, he said.

“Justice Khampepe made various recommendations that we are now studying deeper. We will evaluate the findings and implement action plans to address the areas for improvement as identified in the commission’s recommendations,” he added.

The university will communicate further on the findings and subsequently the action plans and the way forward as soon as they have been finalised, De Villiers said.


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