Not the first time — resurfacing of previous urination incident in 2018 ‘points to broader cultural problem’
The past week’s events at the academic institution in the wake of an incident in which a white student, Theuns du Toit, urinated in the room and on the possessions of a black student, Babalo Ndwayana, have renewed interest in a similar previous incident at another SU residence from 2018.
“The University can confirm an incident dating back to 2018 in which a student urinated in the passage and in front of a closed door of another student in the Eendrag Residence,” said Stellenbosch University (SU) spokesperson Martin Viljoen.
The two students in question were also first-years at the time. According to the affected student, who prefers to be known solely by his first name, Lukhanyo, said that the incident felt racially charged.
“The guy and I never got along well, so at the time I felt racially attacked because he was always rude,” Lukhanyo told Daily Maverick this week. “He used to make some demeaning remarks of which I never gave attention to, but that day of the incident I felt racially attacked.”
According to Bryan Gray, the Eendrag House Committee member in charge of the ‘Ingang’ section of the residence at the time in which the incident took place, taking the incident forward was largely left up to the higher-ups of the university’s management.
Video clips: Students at Stellenbosch University protest against racism and discrimination on 20 May, 2022, after the urination incident. Video: Giuseppe Rajkumar Guerandi
“We did follow a formal process, and sent it to the University to release a statement,” said Gray.
Viljoen confirmed that the incident was indeed reported to the residence leadership, and that the student “whose door was urinated on” received “immediate support from the House Committee Member”.
According to Lukhanyo, after he reported the incident to Gray, the House Committee member assigned to the care of his section, the perpetrator “went away for a few days”. He further clarified that he was unsure of whether this move was of the perpetrator’s own accord or if he was suspended, because “they never told me that they suspended him”.
Viljoen confirmed. “The student was temporarily suspended from the residence while the incident was investigated, and handled swiftly and with the necessary sensitivity. An internal hearing, as guided by the SU Disciplinary Process for Residence Students, was conducted by the relevant disciplinary committee that was diverse in nature.”
Conversely, Lukhanyo recalls the handling of the incident differently.
“Some parts are accurate, and some are not,” said Lukhanyo of the University’s statements on this front. With regards to the suggestion that adequate disciplinary and mediatory processes were followed after the complaint was lodged, Lukhanyo did not agree. “Those are not true,” he simply said.
In terms of the aforementioned mediation, Viljoen maintained that the process was resolved.
“A mediation process followed which was by all accounts successful, as confirmed by the affected student,” said Viljoen. “It should be noted that throughout the hearing and mediation process that followed, the perpetrator showed remorse while the incident led to constructive conversations in the Residence.”
From the affected student’s perspective, Lukhanyo makes it explicitly clear that the disciplinary and mediation processes were not exactly constructive nor reconciliatory. He recalled that once the perpetrator was back in the residence “after three or four days”, his section held a meeting at which the perpetrator was present and apologised.
“Since I saw that nothing was done and he was drunk, I forgave him,” said Lukhanyo. “Not that he was remorseful; he never showed any remorse.”
The outcome of the aforementioned internal disciplinary hearing was accepted without opposition, according to Viljoen. “It was the residence leadership’s conclusive understanding at the time that the parties accepted the outcome — and as the disciplinary committee concluded that the incident was an act of vandalism.”
What Lukhanyo largely remembers of that time is being left in the dark throughout all of these alleged processes and resolutions.
“That was the end of it; there were no outcomes communicated to me whether they investigated the incident and whether it was some kind of vandalism, as they say,” he said. “It’s the first time I’m hearing this now, where they’re saying that the student that was affected accepted the outcome without any opposition. No outcome was communicated to me, so I don’t understand when they say that the outcomes were accepted with no opposition, but yeah I forgave him.”
For student activist Grace Mngadi at SU, who is involved in anti-GBV efforts and who addressed the large crowd of protesters at the most recent protest held at the university on 20 May, the facts resurfacing around this previous urination incident point to a broader cultural and institutional problem at play at SU.
“It is disappointing but not surprising to find out that SU did not take any firm action against a violation of human dignity,” said Mngadi. “The words ‘transformation’, ‘inclusivity’, and ‘2040 vision’ are merely used to promote public image.”
Mngadi went on to lament the notion that firm repercussions may only be exacted for this most recent urination incident because of the publicity and public outrage surrounding it.
“The most recent incident is probably only getting some form of discipline because students put pressure on the institution and brought it to a standstill,” they said. “Discrimination happens every day on this campus, but perpetrators continue to roam around here. It appears that only those who have access to a large social media following and video evidence will ever get some form of basic justice.”
The effects of a week of protest on the exam season
In the aftermath of a disruptive week of high emotions and protest action, which unfolded in the week leading up to the commencement of the examination season, Stellenbosch University made the executive decision on 20 May to postpone exams by a week.
What followed was a deluge of backlash on social media from parents and students who felt unfairly blindsided by the decision and whose flight plans and other personal arrangements were upheaved.
“The University did receive complaints about its decision to move the start of the exam back by a week. It is understandable that there are parents who are upset about the decision,” said Viljoen.
The SU spokesperson emphasised that the decision was highly unusual and not taken lightly, and that Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Learning and Teaching, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, acknowledged that this would have a logistical impact on the SU community.
“Our student leaders and leadership of faculties were however united in their request for this delay,” stated Viljoen. “The Rectorate believes this gives all our students the best possible opportunity to achieve success during their exams and assessments — especially in light of clear indications of many students experiencing the events of the past week as traumatic and impacting not only their wellness but also their ability to prepare for the upcoming exam.”
As of 26 May, however, the university announced that certain mechanisms would be established to alleviate the burdens of this postponement as raised in the initial backlash to the decision.
These provisions include a monetary remuneration that certain students — whose travel and/or accommodation plans have been disrupted — can now apply for, as well as the option to apply to write certain exams at off-campus sites if needed.
Daily Maverick reported earlier that Ndwayana (20) was asleep in his room at Huis Marais men’s residence on Sunday morning, 15 May, when Du Toit entered it at about 4am and urinated on his books and a laptop on his desk. A video of Du Toit urinating on the first-year student’s belongings went viral online.
The incident has been widely condemned, with higher education minister Blade Nzimande asking: “If it is the case that no person is born racist, as former state president Nelson Mandela correctly argued, where does such behaviour stem from?”
Giuseppe Rajkumar Guerandi is a former SU student leader and resident of Eendrag.