Stellenbosch University’s Wilgenhof Residence Exposed: A History of Toxic Culture and Initiation Practices

Stellenbosch University’s Wilgenhof male residence has once again come under scrutiny for its initiation practices, described as a “chamber of horrors,” with fresh revelations leading to concerns about a longstanding “toxic culture” at the prestigious institution.

Stellenbosch University’s Wilgenhof residence.

Stellenbosch University’s Wilgenhof residence.

Constitutional law expert and former Wilgenhof resident, Pierre de Vos, spoke out about the dehumanizing initiation practices at the residence, recounting his own experiences during his time there in the mid-1980s.

“In Wilgenhof, the final initiation ritual happened on an evening about two weeks after the start of lectures.”

“In my time, first-year students were all blindfolded and kept in a locked room where we were blasted with piercingly loud music and made to do various physical exercises,” De Vos recalled.

He also highlighted arbitrary discipline throughout the year, orchestrated by “Die Nagligte” (the night lights), who, dressed in black hoods, would punish students for perceived rule violations.

The recent exposé was triggered by a university raid, leading to the discovery of two secret rooms. ‘

A former Wilgenhof resident detailed the punishment he endured in 2022, including being forced to drink a toxic mixture and having a liquid with a “urine-like odor” poured over his body.

Stellenbosch University's house of horrors

Stellenbosch University’s house of horrors

The university has set up a panel to review the findings and advise on appropriate actions.

The panel includes the Deputy Registrar: Governance, Ethics and Compliance, an independent Advocate from the Cape Bar, and a former university executive.

The report is expected by the end of February.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers emphasized the university’s commitment to addressing the matter seriously and shaping an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Despite concerns about the university’s track record in dealing decisively with such issues, former student Paul Joubert, who raised similar concerns in 2020, expressed hope for a more impactful outcome this time.

“The university does not have a good track record, because they are always in the process of forming a panel, but it’s very rare that something gets done in a decisive way,” Joubert said.

Stellenbosch University’s assurance of a safe welcoming process for new students has been met with mixed reactions, with Wilgenhof members expressing anger but not denying the overall allegations.

What’s next for Stellenbosch University

The revelations raise questions about the university’s commitment to eradicating harmful practices and fostering an environment free from racism, bullying, and archaic initiation rituals.

The panel’s report and subsequent actions will play a crucial role in shaping the institution’s response and addressing the deeply embedded issues within Wilgenhof.

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