South Africa: Anti-Gay Slur Starts Row on University Campus

Published: March 5, 2012

An anti-gay slur at the predominantly Afrikaner, rugby-playing Stellenbosch University has ignited a fierce debate around homophobia at the tertiary institution.

According to South Africa’s The Times newspaper, “Tension is simmering behind the university’s well-manicured facade as students demand an apology and decisive action to be taken against residence leaders accused of spreading anti-gay sentiments.”

The newspaper reported today, March 05, 2012, that an official complaint had been laid against two senior students at the male residence, Dagbreek, following comments made at a freshman meeting on January 30.

The campus group Mojo was delivering a talk on sexuality, race and the environment to first- year students at Dagbreek when the meeting turned “hostile”.

House committee member, Michiel Engelbrecht, said he “was not a supporter of gays”.

The newspaper reported that Mojo laid a complaint against Engelbrecht and house committee head, Pieter Nel, with the university’s Division for Student Discipline.

According to the complaint: “Engelbrecht added that he was ‘not a supporter of gays’ [said in Afrikaans] to which some of the group applauded and others then followed.”

The complaint said young students were susceptible to cues from their leaders. “An impressionable young man, new to an environment and institution, sees his house committee (HK) members as agents of the university. They idolise the HK members as an emblem of what it means to be a ‘Matie’.”

However, the Times reported that Engelbrecht had said his comment had been taken out of context. He referred to a statement issued by Nel.

Engelbrecht, it said, told students they had a right to their own opinion on the “gay subject” even though he was not in favour of it. Engelbrecht, who is studying agricultural economics, hails from a farm in North West. A Bible rests on his bedside table.

According to the report in the Times, Engelbrecht’s lawyer, Wynand Viljoen, said they had not seen the complaint.

The university’s male residence Majuba made headlines in 2003 when three masked students beat up two students, reportedly for being gay.

Conventionally viewed as the intellectual cradle of apartheid, the university has made a concerted effort in recent years to transform its image to one of inclusivity and tolerance. Professor Russel Botman’s appointment as the first black rector in 2007 was a big step in this transformation.

Mojo member Raelene Adams said no action had been taken yet against those accused. “We are being pressured from many angles to drop the complaint.”

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