Alumni threaten Stellenbosch University with legal action

Yazeed Kamaldien

A university alumni network has threatened to take legal action against Stellenbosch University (SU) if its newly appointed rector and vice-chancellor takes office next year.

The university announced earlier this month that internationally experienced Professor Wim de Villiers would take over the position left vacant after Professor Russel Botman’s death on June 28.

Picture source: a screenshot from Independent Newspapers website

Picture source: a screenshot from Independent Newspapers website

Hendrick Makaneta, spokesman for the non-profit Higher Education Transformation Network, said in a statement on Friday that the appointment of De Villiers was a “setback to transformation”.

“We warn the arrogant management and council of the University of Stellenbosch that the network will initiate litigation should they continue on this trajectory,” he said.

Susan van der Merwe, spokeswoman for SU, said yesterday they would not “enter into a public debate on the new rector and vice-chancellor or any other appointment”.

Makaneta said the network believed De Villiers has “failed to bring about any meaningful change at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in his former capacity as dean of faculty of health sciences”.

“If anything, there has been nothing short of misery to especially those disadvantaged students who wanted to study medicine at UCT, several of whom were excluded, denied enrolments and victimised under his watch.”

Makaneta also claimed the network was “not surprised at this development given that the council of the Stellenbosch University was in any case not fully supportive of the late Prof (Russel) Botman”.

Botman was the historically Afrikaner stronghold’s first black rector and vice-chancellor. He gained praise, criticism and opposition for his efforts to transform the university.

Makaneta said the appointment of De Villiers was “an affront to the memory of Botman in particular and the transformation of the higher education sector”.

The network said it was committed to the “elimination of socio-economic disparities through education”.

Van der Merwe said SU the “comprehensive appointment process for a new rector and vice-chancellor for SU has been completed with input from its many stakeholders”.

“The university has committed itself to be inclusive, innovative and future-focused… (It) is one of the South African institutions that allocates the most funds to recruitment bursaries for African, coloured and Indian students,” she added.

When SU announced earlier this month that it had appointed De Villiers to the top job, it said he was “committed to continued transformation to address the inequalities of the past”.

De Villiers, who was born in Stellenbosch, said in a university statement he was “enthusiastic about the path on which Botman placed SU”.

“Implementation will no doubt come with its challenges, but it will be an honour for me to lead this process,” he added.

“Each university cannot do everything. We must distinguish ourselves through excellent research that is locally relevant and globally competitive. We also need to increase our number of postgraduate students.”

The university’s council in November adopted a policy on multilingualism, which “makes provision for increasing the lecture offering in both Afrikaans and English”.

De Villiers said he intended to “make sure that the language policy and plan are implemented correctly”.

UCT spokeswoman Kylie Hatton said yesterday the network’s accusation comes after the university had requested to meet with it.

UCT has in recent months been in the media for its seeming lack of transformation, with research indicating its black students felt alienated by pervasive “whiteness”.

Hatton said: “UCT rejects the suggestion that transformation is not a priority nor happening at UCT or in the health sciences faculty.

“UCT has previously requested to meet with HETN to discuss these and other matters and this invitation is extended again, as we take transformation very seriously and if they have evidence of incidents that have harmed transformation we would welcome an opportunity to discuss it.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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