South Africa


Prohibition on Stellenbosch campus: A temporary solution for a long-term problem

Prohibition on Stellenbosch campus: A temporary solution for a long-term problem
Stellenbosch University. (Photo:

Following the 2019 death of a student in a Stellenbosch University residence and the wave of action against gender-based violence in the country, the university has banned alcohol in residences. Will it be effective?

Students returning to campus for the 2020 academic year were welcomed with the news that Stellenbosch University had placed a temporary ban on alcohol at residences.

On 27 January, Dr Choice Makhetha, senior director of student affairs at SU, sent an email to students announcing that alcohol could no longer be bought or consumed in residences or university-owned private student organisation (PSO) houses.

The rationale

SU expressed concern over a student dying last year after allegedly partaking in “some kind of drinking game or ritual” and said it also wanted to diminish gender-based violence (GBV).

The dead student lived in a male residence and “presumably aspirated” after a drinking bout.

In September 2019, SU responded to a memorandum from the Anti-GBV Student Movement by promising to take a stand against GBV.

It said alcohol abuse is one of the “various aspects of the problem of [GBV]”.

Makhetha said the ban will remain until residences implement rules about handling alcohol in a healthy manner. 

“We are open to a period of engaging conversations with our students about the ways in which we will combat these difficulties, to make our living and learning communities safe and welcoming spaces for all,” said Makhetha.

Makhetha told Daily Maverick the ban aimed to create an environment for discussions that would include non-drinking students. She cited a lack of liquor licences or clear rules on alcohol.

The student affairs department would look at residence traditions and cultures “to figure out how to make sure rules are implemented” and would get feedback from students.

SU’s Student Representative Council (SRC) said it had “no disagreement over the motivations behind the decision” but added it had been promised more engagement on the issue. It would “refuse to be dictators and pursue this authoritatively and in a top-down approach” and asked students to fill in forms with their grievances.

Makhetha said her department wanted to consult the SRC but stood firm on the alcohol ban.

On 7 February, Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, vice-rector of learning and teaching said in an email: “Our ultimate aim is not a prohibition of alcohol on our campuses or in our residences. We want to arrive at clear and practical guidelines for responsible alcohol use.”

Schoonwinkel said other universities in Western Cape don’t allow alcohol consumption without liquor licences.ALC

During 2019, the liquor licenses of SU male residences were not renewed yet most continued to sell alcohol.

SU’s 2012 rules for residences say alcohol may only be consumed at functions, in residence rooms and in-residence pubs.

Fighting stereotypes and drinking culture

Professor Shakila Singh, an associate professor of gender education at the University of Kwazulu-Natal who specialises in GBV and alcohol usage on campus, explained that globally drinking at universities is excessive.

As young students acquire more freedom and can drink legally, it is difficult to control drinking on campuses. While a ban might restrict access to alcohol, it can also take boozing out of the university’s control.

Though alcohol does not cause violence, it is “a significant contributor”, said Singh.

Marie Mjacu, the leader of Harmonie female residence at SU, does not believe the ban will fix drinking or rape problems. SU’s drinking culture is “large and complex” and she said it needs to be understood better in order to combat it.

Mjacu and other students were concerned at the lack of consultation on the ban, saying it raised opposition to the measure and rendered it less effective. 

“It’s also become a Catch-22 situation for house committees because either we enforce a rule that many of us do not agree with and become enemies of our houses or we ignore the rule and risk coming under fire from the university,” she said.

“What concerns is that if something goes wrong in Harmonie as a result of drinking, people may not feel that they can come to the house committee for help,” she said. She called for an honest dialogue about binge drinking.

The ban won’t affect boozing in private accommodation or at events such as Varsity Cup’s rugby matches.

Mjacu said that some see the ban as a way for SU to try to protect themselves from liability and lawsuits, “under the pretext of caring about the well-being of their students”.

Gender dynamics

“Pubs and drinking traditions exist largely in men’s residences because historically drinking (and drinking in excess) has been associated with social status and group mentality,” Mjacu said. All residence pubs at SU, bar one, are at male residences.

Harmonie doesn’t have a pub, but allows people to drink “soft liquor” in designated areas.

“As a residence with a fairly healthy drinking culture it does feel as if the university did not take us into consideration at all,” stated Mjacu.

Leader of Wilgenhof, a male residence that has a pub, GC van Heerden believes drinking culture needs to be tackled but SU’s approach lacks nuance.

Safety concerns

“I am also wary of the indirect effects this policy might have, such as increasing drunk driving, furthering the economic divide between people that can afford to go to clubs and those that can’t and increasing the number of people that enter the orange and red zones on campus at night,” Van Heerden added.

Certain areas on SU campus have been labelled from green to red, the former being the safest and the latter being the most dangerous to traverse.

Van Heerden thinks most residences will implement the ban “in a lax manner”.

 “Leadership will try to find the compromise between keeping their side clean and keeping the house happy. Thorough implementation will only be practicable if all or most students are on board with the rule, which, currently, is not the case.”

Shan Wells, a member of the anti-GBV movement in Stellenbosch believes it’s safer to drink in one’s residence because it is easy to return to one’s room and lock it if need be.

Wells explained that “while alcohol exacerbates GBV and rape culture”, the real issue is “the culture of entitlement of men” and the objectification of women and members of the queer community.

She added, “I worry that the alcohol ban will be an excuse not to address the real issues.” DM


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