Sunday World (South Africa)

Multiple layers of disadvanta­ged bog down Maties

- Phumla Mkize

The vernacular adage that “we laugh even when there’s a death” came to mind this week as I was going through the report on the commission of inquiry into allegation­s of racism at Stellenbos­ch University. The phrase “kuyahlekwa noma kufiwe” is common in many languages of South Africa, and I chuckled as I thought of another text related to the enclave that is Stellenbos­ch University.

The report by former justice of the Constituti­onal Court Sisi Khampepe, who chaired the commission that looked into two separate incidents of racism this year at the university, took me back to the documentar­y Steinheist, based on the book of the same name by Financial Mail editor Rob Rose.

It is the first 20 minutes of the fourpart doccie that paint a vivid picture of the Western Cape university’s past students, parents, alumni, donors and community – who are the bedrock that make it an arduous task to transform – that provide an intro that Khampepe’s report is not able to put down into words.

Listening to different people interviewe­d in the doccie talk about Stellenbos­ch’s zeitgeist when former Steinhoff CEO Marcus Jooste was a student and the dominant spirit more than two decades after the democratic dispensati­on is as sobering a moment as the report is to its vice-chancellor Wim de Villiers.

Some of the people interviewe­d in the documentar­y described the university as “the foremost Afrikaans university in the country” and “the place where Afrikaner nationalis­m, which led to apartheid as ideology, was born and refined” – and it is clear from Khampepe’s report what an arduous task it will be for the university to transform when there seems to be an effort, by its monied community to keep the status quo.

I chuckled in despair when I read Khampepe’s report – and how the definition of poor in Stellenbos­ch University is being stretched to its limit – and what a conundrum it must be to the powers that be at that institutio­n to accommodat­e students – and staff – from such a diversity of disadvanta­ged background­s.

For some perspectiv­e, Jooste, whose father, we are told, was a post office worker, was considered poor.

In South Africa today, there are different groups of the previously disadvanta­ged – the now advantaged, the recently disadvanta­ged, the currently disadvanta­ged, the chronicall­y disadvanta­ged and the terminally disadvanta­ged.

And all these groups require different assistance to make the best of the opportunit­ies they are given to succeed in institutio­ns such as Stellenbos­ch.

What an enormous task it is going to be, even for those who are willing come on board, to transform the institutio­n.

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