stellenbosch university white students

Stellenbosch University was recently rocked by a urination scandal – Image via Flickr / Carton

A look deep inside the Stellenbosch University bun fight

The institution is locked in a fierce judicial battle.

stellenbosch university white students

Stellenbosch University was recently rocked by a urination scandal – Image via Flickr / Carton

Note: Stellenbosch University has pointed out that the current investigation into the conduct of its vice chancellor, Prof. Wim de Villiers, is an independent fact finding investigation by a retired judge, and not a disciplinary hearing, as The South African has reported. We regret the error.

All is not well inside the white-washed walls of Stellenbosch University with a disciplinary hearing instituted against its vice chancellor, Prof. Wim de Villiers, to ascertain whether he had had improper conversations with the recently elected chancellor of the university, retired Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron, while Cameron was on the bench in a case in which the university was a party.

The disciplinary hearing follows a complaint by the DA MP for Stellenbosch, Dr Leon Schreiber, and will be conducted by retired Western Cape High Court judge Burton Fourie.

Court battle between Stellenbosch University and Gelyke Kanse

The court case was a particularly bitter one between the university and an organisation called Gelyke Kanse (Equal Opportunities) considering the university’s language policy – long a bone of contention. Gelyke Kanse took the university all the way to the Constitutional Court because the organisation believed stronger guarantees for the position of Afrikaans as a language of instruction at the university was required than the language policy made room for.

In the end, the Constitutional Court, on which Cameron served at the time, found for the university and against Gelyke Kanse, to the great unhappiness of the latter and its supporters.

The complaint Schreiber laid with the university council, which has now led to the disciplinary process, concerns e-mails sent while the judgment was still pending in which De Villiers asked Cameron to avail himself to become the university’s chancellor.

Schreiber, supported by Gelyke Kanse leader Adv. Jan Heunis, holds that the contact and the inquiry from De Villiers was improper. At the time, judging from the e-mail correspondence, so did Cameron, who, in his response to De Villiers, stated his concerns about the impression such correspondence may create.

De Villiers’ supporters in the university community hold that his contact with Cameron had nothing to do with the court case or its outcome, and that neither was contingent upon the other.

They also stand ready to argue that Cameron’s preference in the court case would have been immaterial to the result of the judgment as an individual on a bench of eleven, where the finding was not a closely contested affair.

The timeline of events, and whether De Villiers’ efforts played any role in what may well be argued to have been a parallel and unrelated eventually successful effort by other people (not De Villiers) to persuade Cameron to avail himself and to lobby for his candidacy, may also come to play an important part in defending De Villiers when the matter eventually serves before Judge Fourie.