Stellenbosch documentary: minister claims racism ‘rife’ at South African universities

Luister details alleged discrimination against black students at leading institution

September 2, 2015
The library at Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Source: iStock
The library at Stellenbosch University, South Africa

South Africa’s higher education minister has claimed that racism is “rife” at the country’s historically white universities, after a film detailed alleged discrimination against black students.

Blade Nzimande called for institutional transformation to be “radicalised” after the release of the documentary Luister (watch below), which alleges that black students at Stellenbosch University faced racial abuse on and off campus and were excluded from some courses by the institution’s use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction.

As he addressed MPs on 1 September alongside university leaders, hundreds of students marched through Stellenbosch’s campus calling for the pace of change to be accelerated and for all courses to be made available in English.

Mr Nzimande told the South African parliament’s higher education committee that it was wrong that the majority of students at Stellenbosch (62 per cent) were white, arguing that a university in the Western Cape should be “majority coloured students”.

Quoted by the Business Day newspaper, Mr Nzimande said that Afrikaans should be used as a medium of instruction, but that it “can’t act as a barrier to education”, and that English must be used also.

He said that he welcomed efforts by Stellenbosch’s vice-chancellor, Wim de Villiers, to put English and Afrikaans on an equal footing. But he claimed that other interests may not be so keen on change.

“I hope we recognise that part of the problem is the conservative interests around Stellenbosch that are resisting transformation, that want to keep it an exclusive Afrikaans university as if it were the mid-1980s,” Mr Nzimande said.

Mr Nzimande also suggested that Stellenbosch was not the only university that faced such issues.

“Racism is rife at former white universities and that is a reality we should face,” he said.

Professor de Villiers, who was summoned to appear before the committee after the release of Luister, said that the 35-minute documentary made “painful” viewing, admitting that he would not attempt to “defend the indefensible”.

According to the Mail & Guardian, the vice-chancellor said that he was aiming for white students to be in the minority at Stellenbosch by 2020, and that transformation was his top priority.

“Our journey is imperfect, incomplete, but we remain steadfast,” Professor de Villiers said.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham