Has Stellenbosch University shaken off the ghost of the past? - Marius Fransman

ANC WCape leader says it is a travesty of history and betrayal of the Mandela legacy that 99.9 percent of whites all vote for one party

ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman, International Relations & Cooperation Deputy Minister, SASCO chapter, Stellenbosch University (Maties), Friday, February 28 2014

On the 7th June 1966 Robert F. Kennedy delivered an address to Stellenbosch University which started with these words: "We have, you and I, many differences of view and opinion. I have a great respect for the fact that you invited me here despite these differences. And I take comfort and encouragement from it as well." In that same vein I am delighted to be here in your midst this evening and acknowledge the long journey that this institution has walked since its predecessors first opened its doors in 1863, just over two hundred year since the colonial project was taking root here on our soil in the Cape. 

It is instructive to note that Kennedy also said: "Your country and mine have created wealth unmatched in the history of man; but we have not yet learnt to turn that wealth to the service of all our people." I will return to that subject later, save to say that this issue lies at the heart of this second phase of our revolution and transition to an economy that indeed services the needs and aspiration of all our people.

In this respect Stellenbosch University and indeed all of you have an historic responsibility to rise to the occasion for no institution can truly exist as an island unto itself - not as an ivory tower in the midst of a changing country, a continent in transformation and a rapidly changing world. This is especially true of Stellenbosch University and one is compelled to ask the question: How do you leverage this institution's capacity and capability as a highly ranked centre of excellence, hosting one of the top business schools on the continent and indeed the world?

Stellenbosch University gained notoriety for a number of other reasons not as noble as the latter. The remnants of which raise its ugly head from time to time as the institution engages the struggle of taking its rightful place in a free and democratic South Africa. At each of these junctures we must sharply raise the question, what is to be done to take the agenda of transformation forward? Such questions will always be mired in the struggle of shaking off the DNA of the colonial project, the shameful apartheid legacy and the longstanding culture of exclusionism whether racial, cultural or linguistic to which Stellenbosch University was an ideological home.

We have a responsibility to understand the slave roots of our past and the many heinous practices that slaves had to endure at the hands of their colonial masters. In this the church (in particular the DRC/NGK) and other institutions' hands were sullied by being instruments of a skewed racist supremacist ideology. Consider the case of Adam van Afrika, a slave of Martin Melck, cited by Groenewald in his ‘The Church, Slavery and Society in the Stellenbosch District during the Eighteenth Century': (Adam van Afrika) ...appeared before the Stellenbosch church council in 1788.

He was a member of the congregation and came to ask the council advice over his predicament. He had been living as husband and wife with an unnamed slave woman his whole life but, being both slaves, was unable to marry her. What should he do? The council considered the case and ordered him to abandon this relationship since he would otherwise have to be put under censure and be prevented from joining the congregation for communion, ‘no matter how irreproachable his morals and behaviour are otherwise,' the council members added.

As colonial roots spread in this area since 1679, Sheikh Yusuf was banished to our shores from Java by the Dutch colonisers, and then relocated in Makassar not far from here isolated from the mainstream of colonial life in Cape Town. The very history of Stellenbosch and its surrounding areas carry a deep history of the suffering of our people and their struggle under the yoke of slavery. This trauma is yet to be fully acknowledged and is covered in the myth of the idyllic oak-lined avenues and boulevards that is today home to this institution.

Not far from here are the rows of houses along Herte Street in Stellenbosch which were originally servant's quarters. They quaintly conceal the picture of how life must have been for slaves in 1834; filled with drudgery, suffering and hardship. Built by the missionaries of the church for the former students, they became slave dwellings and over the next 100 years they lived there until their forced removal in 1950 when the Group Area Act came into play and the cottages were sold to new white owners.

The Dorp (Village) Museum is a group of four houses dating from 1709 to 1850. The oldest part of Grosvenor House, a two-story building in Neo-Classical style, dates from 1782; on the left of the main building are the old slaves' quarters. The walls of these slave quarters hold many untold stories, stories of the difficulty of slave life and suffering.

Just as the architectural roots of the city conceals its painful colonial past, the high walls of academia camouflage the deep roots of Stellenbosch University's racial prejudice, exclusionism and separate development. Founded in 1866 as a small grammar school, it was renamed Victoria College in 1887, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, and raised to university status in 1918. According to sources, here (at Stellenbosch) the Boer intellectual elite studied and taught, among them future prime ministers, heads of state and ministers (like Hans Strijdom, Daniel Malan and Jan Smuts). Here, it could be said, racism was given an academic consecration.

In a June 2013 paper ‘Rethinking Maties' apartheid past', Mandisa Mbali and Handri Walters write that "Paradoxically, the South African state implemented segregationist policies just as scientific racism was declining in influence in the rest of the world. This raises the question: On what intellectual basis did Afrikaner intellectuals at institutions such as Stellenbosch justify apartheid? Were such justifications based on ideas of essential cultural difference or scientific racism?"

This study says that "Cultural justifications for apartheid were presented by influential Afrikaans-speaking anthropologists, including those who were based at Stellenbosch. Volkekunde, a brand of Afrikaans anthropology that had found a home at Stellenbosch from 1926 to the mid-1990s, aimed to address both the "native" and the "poor white" questions of the 1930's by proposing separate development. These anthropologists' thinking was that this approach would ensure the "cultural" preservation of each group."

Foremost amongst this group was Max Eiselen, a Stellenbosch anthropologist, who has been described as one of the intellectual "architects of apartheid". In justifying separate development, Eiselen emphasised cultural differences over those that were racial and understood to be biologically defined. 

The University has long been linked to the former racial segregation policy of apartheid, and deemed to be the birthplace of that policy implemented by the National Party under former leaders Hendrik Verwoerd and John Vorster. 

For example, Dagbreek (formerly known as the John Murray House) students were involved in the "clash of Andringa Street" incidents in 1939, where Stellenbosch University students attacked the homes of black and coloured communities. Former Prime Ministers Verwoerd and Vorster were both housed at Dagbreek, and the role played by Dagbreek students in 1939 could be deemed as providing the platform for future politicians of the NP government to legitimise apartheid theology. 

The Afrikaans language has historically been a source or focal point of contention in South Africa, with regards to issues of identity. The implementation of language policy was used as a tool in order to advance the interests of those holding political office and power; more specifically the former apartheid regime under the Nationalist Party (NP). 

The purpose of the former National Party government's language policy was to establish Afrikaners as a separately distinct cultural and linguistic group, as well as to establish and maintain other ethno-linguistic groupings within the country at the time. The Afrikaner agenda was driven and premised on the struggle for cultural and language domination, which would naturally have knock-on effects on the various educational and language policies geared towards controlling Africans. 

Today it is common knowledge that the apartheid education system was founded on the notion of a separate educational system on the grounds of ethno-linguistics. Stellenbosch University cannot be divorced from the apartheid legacy for instance because it is a historically white university, which premises the use of Afrikaans as medium of instruction (generally regarded as exclusionary by Africans). 

The institution's past was revealed in the discovery of the human skull and instruments used to measure human hair and eye types in the past at the SASOL museum on campus. Engraved on the case of one of these instruments was the name Eugen Fischer, a leading Nazi eugenicist in Germany in the 1930s. The university has also defended its use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction because of the Afrikaner community it caters to (especially in the Western Cape and Northern Cape), as well as students from Namibia. In this sense, the university can be regarded as an Afrikaner stronghold. 

Furthermore, the latter point is clearly illustrated in the passage of the Bantu Education Act of 1953, which was validated by the idea that Africans needed a different educational system that would then prepare them for their "rightful place in society". The NP government coercively forced African institutions to adopt Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools and colleges, hence the need for educators to learn and perfect the use of the language in a period of five years (King, 2001). This was indicative of the fact that the ideological and political factors linked to maintaining Afrikaner nationalism was paramount. One must keep in mind that social upward mobility for Africans was inextricably linked to their competence in the languages of Afrikaans and English.

Although the aforementioned white educational privilege was galvanized under the apartheid government, the white position had been protected years before as seen with the Carnegie Corporation visit to South Africa in the 1920's. For instance, the Carnegie Corporation had given generous gifts to South African communities (Vryheid and the town of Harrismith) for the construction of libraries. Despite the obvious disparities with regards to opportunities for whites and blacks, the Carnegie Corporation made sure that whites were the beneficiaries of these grants. 

The University of Stellenbosch has been linked to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for centuries with reference to being in a partnership in undertaking research projects and advancing the research capacity of both organisations. In fact, Dr Keppel (president of Carnegie Corporation) expressed concern that "early support for white advancement would produce resulting goodwill and associations which would then legitimize and make more effective whatever work the Corporation might do to enhance black advancement" (Carnegie Corporation, 2004).

It was the well-known five-volume ‘Poor white study' report of the 1930s that brought together poor and well-off whites' destinies together, in order to mobilise socially and politically for dominance. The study stemmed from a social science project done in 1929 to uncover the growing number of whites that were slipping into unmitigated poverty (Carnegie Corporation, 2004). A poor white commission made up of politicians, clergy and members of academia were dedicated to uplift 300 000 poor whites out of poverty to salvage white political solidarity. The study did fieldwork gathering statistics and facts, as well as capturing the voices of Afrikaans speaking impoverished Afrikaners and their plight. This Poor White Study funded by the Carnegie Corporation was fundamental to the rise of the National Party in later years; which reiterated that "The white man must remain masters."

Therefore, the ‘Poor White Study' can be regarded as a catalyst with reference to the construction of the former apartheid government. 

However, it was only until the mid-to-late 1990's where Stellenbosch University had a negligible amount of black students enrolled on campus. Conventionally, the students admitted to Stellenbosch University were white, well-educated Afrikaans speaking. With this being said, it must be noted that the apartheid government had disproportionately invested large ratios of educational resources towards white schools and institutions during apartheid - detrimental to Africans. Verwoerd's apartheid policy was sympathetic to poor whites (semi-manual labourers) owing to his social work he had done with welfare organisations years before he took office. 

Under apartheid policy, whites enjoyed vast protection from the state and were assured employment. For instance, the poorest and least educated of whites were protected by the civil service and state-owned enterprises (SOE's), making the apartheid state both an initiator and guarantor of employment to these whites. The civil service and these aforementioned industries operated as job-creating schemes, in order to provide the poorest of whites with employment, housing and a decent livelihood. This is clearly evident of affirmative action programmes implemented under the apartheid regime to benefit all whites, on a more strategic and grand scale compared to affirmative action today.

As the years have gone on, language policy has been a much debated topic at Stellenbosch University. At present, the language policy at the university retains the fact that the university remains committed to Afrikaans despite the history of the university, but offers a mixed model of English and Afrikaans medium as instruction to best account for all points of departure. 

In essence, Stellenbosch University wants to accord a special place for Afrikaans (especially on the undergraduate level) within a context of multilingualism; despite the preponderance of the use of Afrikaans. This in itself can be clearly seen as an attempt to consolidate the university as a stronghold for Afrikaner Nationalism, given our country's demographics and past privileges previously mentioned. With this being said, Afrikaans is also the language of coloureds which is a point that has been argued by administrators. 

Hence, the university seeks to serve the interests of Afrikaans speaking Whites and Coloureds, but things become unclear on how the university's leaders plan to achieve their goal of inclusivity with reference to accommodating Africans (majority who don't understand Afrikaans and whom are historically marginalized from Stellenbosch). This could be termed a dilemma of ‘multilingualism'.

We can also take a view of Stellenbosch University's development over the past two decades of democracy as a barometer of the project to de-racialise post-apartheid South Africa. In this respect, you as SASCO and all student bodies on campus have an immense responsibility as we continue to reach for the goals of social cohesion, nation-building and transformation. It is a travesty of history and betrayal of the Mandela legacy that 99.9 percent of whites all vote for one party. Whilst this may be so, it is entirely understandable as they seek to serve their parochial class interest above the challenge of building a broader, truly united South Africa, in which there is prosperity for all. 

It is our responsibility as students, academics and activists more generally to grapple with these deep rooted challenges that South Africa faces. In this regard it is now opportune that this former home of apartheid ideology engages its best brains and social scientists to be active participants in the development and transformation agenda. 

Our education sector over the past two decades, and more particularly the last five years has grown in leaps and bounds but many challenges remain. In 1993 the education budget was R32 billion. This year 2014/15 it amounts to R242 billion. Over the last five years government had spent R115 billion on the higher education sector alone. 

Stellenbosch University first ‘opened' its doors to non-whites in 1977 but it is clear that there still remains a long walk to freedom even though the university refers with pride to the enormous increase in the number of black students between 1989 and 1993 - a percentage increase of no less than 228%; but it should be noted that in 1993 there were still only 151 black students out of a total of 14,387 - just 1.05%.

Today this situation has vastly improved but our historic challenge remains ever daunting yet non-negotiable. As (Higher Education) Minister Blade Nzimande so aptly put it when he addressed the challenges in higher education in South Africa in 2009 he said: "Education can be regarded as a weapon through which we can transform class, racial and gender relations in society. Precisely because of this, it is a contested terrain, reflecting the very same three contradictions that society seeks to address. Is sociology today saying and reflecting on these things? Is sociology today saying enough about our developmental agenda?" 

My question is, has Stellenbosch University specifically and higher education more generally, shaken off the ghost of the past? That question I leave to you to grapple with.

Issued by the ANC Western Cape, February 28 2014

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