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.

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