Cape Town - A plaque commemorating the so-called “architect of apartheid” and former prime minister HF Verwoerd was removed from a building at Stellenbosch University on Wednesday evening.
The hole in the wall would temporarily be covered with the national flag, as a symbol of unity, and a declaration people could add their names to.
The plaque would be kept at the university archives until a decision had been taken on the preservation and contextualisation of historical artefacts and symbols.
Verwoerd’s grandson Wilhelm Verwoerd attended the event and addressed the crowd.
“I choose salve instead of salt as a Verwoerd. I see the woundedness of black South Africans,” he said, according to a live Twitter feed from the university’s account.
He said he hoped the act conveyed a sense of healing.
Removing the plaque, Rector and Vice Chancellor Wim de Villiers invited students to “talk and walk the walk of inclusivity together”.
'Keep talking to each other'
He reiterated that the university was serious about transformation, which was integral to education.
“On the one hand transformation means addressing – and redressing – what was wrong in the past; on the other hand it means building a better future for all,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery.
De Villiers believed the road ahead would sometimes be clear and sometimes bumpy, but this was acceptable since change was never easy.
“The most important thing is to keep talking to each other.”
He read a statement on behalf of all those gathered at the event, declaring that the removal of the plaque illustrated the institution’s commitment to redress and to creating a welcoming campus for all.
It also declared that the event served as an affirmation of the university’s acknowledgement of its contribution to past injustices.
Theology faculty dean Nico Koopman said removing the plaque was a vulnerable act in a sense because some may describe it as too little, too late.
“It is also vulnerable in the sense that it might be interpreted as an act of non-tolerance and vengeance, an act of the stigmatisation and demonisation of a historical period and persons.”
Koopman said it should be seen in the context of the university’s transformation journey.
Transformation group Open Stellenbosch held a silent protest during the ceremony, holding up posters with a red cross through the old South African flag.
It stated on its Facebook page that it supported the plaque's removal.
At the same time, it called on management to respond to its demand for transformation, particularly with respect to the language of instruction, which was handed to De Villiers two weeks ago.