Reader’s letter: The Wilgenhof debacle


Handré Brand from Stellenbosch writes:

Many letter and columnists have already expressed their opinions about the recent revelation of (apparently) unauthorized internal discipline procedures at the men’s dormitory Wilgenhof, Stellenbosch University. The result is that welcoming practices of first-years (previously known as the “baptism”) will soon be placed under a strong internal spotlight.

If the relevant system is viewed purely theoretically, we are dealing here with students who are mainly in the young-adult stage of their psychological development process, which is accompanied by specific developmental tasks that are normally mastered with varying degrees of success. One of them is the development of self-discipline and another is the establishment of respect for culture and cultural goods.

In black cultures worldwide, attending initiation schools plays an extremely important role as a special educational method. However, it would be extremely inappropriate and unwise to try to draw a parallel between initiation and baptism practices because the two educational approaches are simply not comparable.

However, Don Pinnock (the well-known author and criminologist) highlights one factor that may help to better understand the process. According to Pinnock, during black cultures’ initiation processes, older people play the decisive role in the transmission of what masculinity/femininity, discipline, cultural habits and customs, good behavior and cultural values ​​really mean. However, Western culture has done away with initiation. Young people cannot and should not expose other young people to initiation processes. Older, experienced role models should be part of the process. If this does not happen, critical gaps and pitfalls arise that doom the process to failure.

The argument that Wilgenhof has produced dozens of famous leaders in South African society does not hold up, because just as many top leaders have been produced by other residences such as Dagbreek, Eendrag, Simonsberg and Majuba, to name but a few. It is also a fact that deaths unfortunately occur during black initiation, apparently despite adult supervision and influence.

Would it not perhaps be a feasible solution if from now on all residence halls specifically the resident heads, other senior university staff, as well as former students who are particularly well-known leadership figures, stepped deep and dignified role models were directly involved in the welcoming of new students? Pinnock’s argument is addressed in this way, and supervision and accountability should improve at the same time.