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  • on 12.10.2014
  • at 10:30 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

What’s the matter with Stellenbosch University? 0

One afternoon, during my final year of high school, I first found myself at Stellenbosch University (also known as University of Stellenbosch) on a tour of potential universities in the Western Cape, South Africa’s south-western province. Walking around the various buildings on campus and after a quick stopover in the Neelsie, the university’s mall, I hesitated at the thought of studying there–besides, they didn’t offer what I thought I wanted to do for the rest of my life at the time. So I spent my undergraduate years at the University of Cape Town instead. However, a decade-and-a-bit and some career adjustments later, I am back at SU as a Masters student in the Visual Art department.

In line with the typical Apartheid urban planning practices of many South African towns and cities, Stellenbosch consists of a town center, reserved for “white” people during Apartheid by the Group Areas Act (1950) surrounded by spatially disconnected and racially segregated suburbs and townships. In Stellenbosch, the Group Areas Act was implemented through forced removals in thriving neighborhoods like Die Vlakte (English: The Flats) in the center of town where “black” and “coloured” people lived. The land in Die Vlakte was subsequently acquired by SU after the communities who lived there were evicted and displaced to Kayamandi, Cloetesville and Idas Valley on the town’s margins.

Legacies of colonialism and apartheid are etched into social dynamics of the town in the way its inhabitants occupy public space – real and imagined boundaries are still constructed according to race and class. Spending a significant amount of time there has reminded me that the architecture of a place, both in the physical and social sense, is always deeply embedded in relationships of power.

The ‘dop’ (tot) system, where farm laborers were paid in alcohol in return for their labor led to generational alcoholism and left visible marks on the town’s psyche. Stellenbosch could be viewed as a microcosm of contemporary power relationships among race groups in South Africa – a wealthy “white” minority with access to cultural capital, a “black” elite and growing yet small middle class and disenfranchised poor “black” majority. In a discussion on poverty and inequality in Stellenbosch, the sociologist, Joachim Ewert suggests that between 1996 and 2009 (roughly coinciding with the first decade and a half of of democratic rule) poverty in Stellenbosch increased within all race groups, except the “white” population, and that poverty in Stellenbosch may be greater when compared to other towns of similar size.

In the ten years since my first visit, the university seems to have made some transformative strides in terms of race representation on the surface. That said, 2013 enrollment statistics show that “white” students make up just over 65% of the student population in a town where the overall “white” population is 18,5%. University projects like the HOPE project, an initiative by the late University Vice-Chancellor, Russel Botman, attempts to address issues of transformation at SU and has identified several core focus areas intended to facilitate institutional redress.

continue reading on AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

By Greer Valley – AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

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