On our way to Stellenbosch for our first SAWIP session, a team member told me that Ryneveld street where our session would be held formed part of what was known as Die Vlakte community, an area close to the town centre. This history is not so widely known but has had very traumatic effects for the residents of Die Vlakte.
Ms Renee Hector-Kannemeyer facilitated the discussion and I was moved by her passion and her own story of feeling that she did not have a voice in Stellenbosch University. She echoed the importance of speaking and taking my place in spaces, especially in our universities. Renee did her Masters in Social Development and focused on the current manifestations of trauma experienced during forced removals and interviewed a former Die Vlakte inhabitant.
What struck me the most about the forced removals in Die Vlakte was that I had not known about it but also how there has historically been division between the University of Stellenbosch and the coloured community. The Battle of Andringa aptly demonstrates this. A group of students and Die Vlakte residents were at a cafe getting the newspaper, after a short while there were some accusations about pushing in lines and misbehaviour and this led to some students attacking residents. The fight spilled over to Andringa Street and after the first clash, residents retaliated and broke windows of a private residence. More students came and went on a rampage in the town’s coloured area, attacking families. The brawl carried on with even more intensity the following day as students wanted to “teach ” the coloured people a “lesson”. Police and the university’s rector, RW Wilcocks intervened and put an end to the destruction.
This interaction between university students and the community made me think about what student activist, Brian Kamanzi calls the “war to define the role of the public university”. Our universities have material implications to the broader society. Universities have played- and continues to play an active role in society and in the development of its sociopolitical systems. This is especially true for a university like Stellenbosch. It is interesting to see that there has been conversations between the university and the community and an attempt to speak about this history, be it through the Memory Room or bursaries given to former residents of Die Vlakte community and their descendants. In developing a socially responsive university, we must think about opening more doors for dialogue and think deeply about the role of the university in South Africa, especially with calls for decolonisation.
Renee did an exercise with us where we had to role play different characters and make connections as we read our character’s stories. We made these connections through making a web with string, so every time someone said something in their story that linked to you, they would pass the string to you. We laughed as we tried to figure out the connections in the stories and we became those characters during that exercise. Once everyone had read their stories and we’d made the connections, Renee gave us ‘eviction letters’ and allocated us to different places. Many ended up far and wide- Mitchell’s Plain, Ocean View, KwaLanga- and had to leave their children behind because of the colour of their skin.
This exercise made me think about the reality of being moved from your home and community because of the colour of your skin. Sadly, we are seeing something familiar happening in Cape Town. With places like Woodstock and Salt River gentrifying, evictions are becoming common.