DA prevents Stellenbosch University’s illegal attempt to hide information about alleged impropriety during Afrikaans abolition court case
28 July 2020
Note to Editors: Please find attached English soundbite from Dr Leon Schreiber MP.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has scored an important initial victory in our quest for transparency and justice regarding the events that took place during the court case over the abolition of Afrikaans teaching at Stellenbosch University (SU). Yesterday, the DA was informed by SU’s lawyers that the university would not oppose the Party’s court challenge regarding the university’s illegal refusal to make publicly available information of critical public importance.
The SU has hereby effectively conceded that their earlier refusal of a request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) was illegal, and that they would have suffered an embarrassing defeat in an open court. As further proof that the SU knew their behaviour was indefensible, the university management also agreed to pay certain parts of the DA’s costs in this matter.
This concession follows after the DA launched a legal application at the Western Cape High Court on 10 July. The DA’s court action came after the registrar of the SU, Dr Ronel Retief, refused a PAIA request that was submitted by the DA’s constituency head for Stellenbosch and SU alumnus, Dr Leon Schreiber. The aim of the application was to obtain the evidence considered by an investigation into allegations that the SU rector, Professor Wim de Villiers, had improper personal contact with retired Judge Edwin Cameron during the Constitutional Court case about the abolition of Afrikaans as a primary and equal language of instruction at the university.
According to allegations made in the public domain, De Villiers is alleged to have had secret discussions with Cameron during the court proceedings – including at least one secret in-person meeting at OR Tambo International Airport. Cameron later authored the court ruling that effectively slit the throat of Afrikaans teaching at SU.
It is scandalous that it took a court application by the DA to convince a public university to share information of such critical public importance. But questions linger. Why did the SU management refuse the PAIA application in the first place knowing that it would be illegal? When the DA pointed out that the refusal of the PAIA request would be illegal, why did the SU’s ombudsperson, Advocate Rina Meyer, refuse to consider the DA’s appeal? Does this kind of behaviour not constitute gross, dishonest and deliberate mismanagement? These are questions that members of the Maties community and the public need to interrogate.
The university’s desperation to hide the evidence has also led to renewed questions about the conduct of De Villiers and Cameron during a court case that robbed thousands of Afrikaans students of their right to mother tongue education. Thanks to the DA’s firm conduct in this case, the court will now confirm the SU’s indirect admission of guilt no 13 August, where after all relevant evidence about De Villiers’ conduct must be made available to the DA.
Given the SU’s suspicious behaviour to date, the DA and the public will be excused if we are somewhat sceptical about the sudden turnaround made by the SU. We trust that the full, unredacted record of evidence against De Villiers will be made available, and that the SU does not intend to merely pay lip service to the provisions of PAIA. Based on what the evidence shows, we will also consider further steps.
What is already clear though, is that the SU’s conduct during its feverish quest to abolish Afrikaans tuition as an equal language of instruction alongside English leaves much to be desired. This latest case of illegal secrecy appears to be only the latest in a series of incidents where De Villiers and his management team were only too eager to disregard their constitutional duties to protect their own positions. The DA will not allow the constitutional rights of access to information and mother tongue education to be further trampled by the university management’s contemptible and secretive behaviour.
Issued byLeon Schreiber,DA Constituency Head: Stellenbosch, 28 July 2020