Independent probe clears SU rector of interference in ConCourt language policy case

Prof. Wim de Villiers. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)
Prof. Wim de Villiers. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

The rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU), Professor Wim de Villiers, has been cleared of alleged attempts to interfere in a Constitutional Court case related to the university's 2016 language policy.

It was alleged De Villiers had tried to convince Justice Edwin Cameron to accept the nomination as SU chancellor.

"The investigation found that I had not attempted to influence the Constitutional Court ruling in the Stellenbosch University Language Policy case when I approached Justice Edwin Cameron to be nominated for election as Chancellor," De Villiers said.

The investigation was led by Judge Burton Fourie who tabled his final report on Monday. 

"Judge Burton Fourie found there was no evidence to support a finding that the conduct of the rector in regards to the nomination of Justice Cameron for the position of chancellor of Stellenbosch University constituted a serious violation of the law or serious misconduct," the university said in a statement.

READ: Stellenbosch University probes claims that VC attempted to influence language policy case

Fourie, in his report, wrote: "In my view, the [above] facts and circumstances, and in particular the conduct of the rector, do not, when viewed holistically, give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of Justice Cameron due to influence brought to bear upon him by Prof De Villiers."

De Villiers said it was his responsibility as head of the university to help find the best possible candidate for this senior position.

"I hope we can now close the book on this matter and move on as a university community.

"Both the High Court and Constitutional Court have confirmed that our language is constitutionally justified, and an independent investigation has found that we did nothing wrong." 

De Villiers strongly denied the accusations at the time.

"I did not interfere with the legal process. I am satisfied that I acted in good faith, and that the nomination and election followed due process," he said.

In September, Cameron was announced as the university's new chancellor with effect from January 2020. He retired from the Constitutional Court in August after 11 years.

In October, the court ruled the language policy was constitutionally justified.

Civil society organisation Gelyke Kanse (Equal Opportunities), along with the president of the convocation of the university and others, initially took the case to the Western Cape High Court to have the policy reviewed and set aside.

It was the applicants' belief that the policy infringed on the rights of Afrikaans-speaking students.

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