A black mem­ber in a sea of white

CityPress - - News - S’THEM­BILE CELE sthem­bile.cele@city­press.co.za

The only black mem­ber of the newly elected ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee on Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity’s con­vo­ca­tion says the univer­sity can­not con­tinue to op­er­ate ex­clu­sively in Afrikaans.

Al­though Dr Michael le Cordeur was elected to the po­si­tion of “ad­di­tional mem­ber” on the six-mem­ber ex­ec­u­tive, he is de­ter­mined to make it count.

Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity’s con­vo­ca­tion elec­tion sit­ting was sched­uled for Novem­ber, but was post­poned as a re­sult of the #FeesMustFall protests.

Le Cordeur, the head of the univer­sity’s depart­ment of cur­ricu­lum stud­ies – who was elected along with a white- and male­dom­i­nated con­vo­ca­tion that in­cludes pres­i­dent Jan He­u­nis, vi­cepres­i­dent Jac­ques du Preez, sec­re­tary Na­dia Marais and ad­di­tional mem­ber Sonja Loots – said he was ex­cited about his ap­point­ment, al­though it was “still early days”.

“It is some­thing new for me – I still have a lot to learn. But some­thing I have been en­cour­ag­ing among fel­low lec­tur­ers is that we can­not just com­plain about the is­sue of trans­for­ma­tion at Stel­len­bosch. We need to be pre­pared to serve,” he said.

“The po­si­tion of ad­di­tional mem­ber is not a pow­er­ful one, but we can work on that.”

At the fore­front of the quest for trans­for­ma­tion at the univer­sity is its lan­guage pol­icy, but Le Cordeur said this week that too much time was spent on de­bat­ing lan­guage, while other equally per­ti­nent is­sues were put on the back burner.

“There are other is­sues apart from the lan­guage one. The in­sti­tu­tional char­ac­ter of the univer­sity is prob­lem­atic. Black stu­dents do not feel wel­come. Ac­com­mo­da­tion is a prob­lem. There are stu­dents who travel by taxi ev­ery day from places like At­lantis and Mitchells Plain,” he said.

“I was speak­ing to a stu­dent who trav­els ev­ery day from At­lantis by taxi and it costs her a lot of money. She has to be up by 5am to get to class on time. Both of her par­ents are un­em­ployed. Th­ese are the kinds of things that we need to speak about. I will be push­ing for a shut­tle ser­vice for th­ese stu­dents be­cause this is not just a place for hos­tel stu­dents.

“The in­sti­tu­tional char­ac­ter can­not con­tinue to be al­lowed to make stu­dents feel un­wel­come.”

Le Cordeur said he did not ex­pect to be elected, and stood for the po­si­tion be­cause he be­lieved those who were push­ing for trans­for­ma­tion at the in­sti­tu­tion needed to be proac­tive and not just “crit­i­cise from the out­side”.

“I think the univer­sity missed a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to show the world that we are se­ri­ous about trans­for­ma­tion by not elect­ing some­one like [Nige­ri­an­born political sci­ences mas­ter’s grad­u­ate] Love­lyn Nwadeyi. Con­vo­ca­tion can play an im­por­tant role in chang­ing mind-sets, and vot­ing for Love­lyn would have con­trib­uted greatly to that con­ver­sa­tion,” he said, in a ref­er­ence to Nwadeyi’s speech on the evening of the elec­tions that since went vi­ral.

Le Cordeur said he be­lieved that an ad­di­tional 10 stu­dent or lec­turer votes would have made the dif­fer­ence and would have seen Nwadeyi elected to the con­vo­ca­tion body. She missed out on the po­si­tion of deputy pres­i­dent to Du Preez by 15 votes.

“We can­not be ab­sent from de­bates on cam­pus as alumni – we need to en­gage,” he said.

Le Cordeur, who is flu­ent in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa, said he con­stantly en­cour­aged his stu­dents to be mul­tilin­gual.

“Lan­guage is im­por­tant be­cause it does trans­late to ac­cess, but my motto go­ing into this term will be that we need to for­get about think­ing of Afrikaans as the only lan­guage of education,” he said.

“We need to work to con­struct a bal­ance be­tween English and Afrikaans at the univer­sity. We can­not con­tinue to op­er­ate as ex­clu­sively Afrikaans. Those days are gone and they should never re­turn. English can add value be­cause the play­ing field is un­even and English can level it out.”

In an ar­ti­cle head­lined No rain­bow na­tion for Stel­len­bosch, pub­lished on Jan­uary 30, City Press re­ported that the

con­vo­ca­tion com­mit­tee elected at the univer­sity con­sisted ex­clu­sively of white mem­bers. This was in­cor­rect, as Le Cordeur is black. City Press apol­o­gises for the er­ror.

Michael le Cordeur

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