Century-old ‘KKK’ group at Maties was an ‘open secret’

Stellenbosch University’s Wilgenhof residence. Picture: Ruan Belligan/Facebook

Stellenbosch University’s Wilgenhof residence. Picture: Ruan Belligan/Facebook

Published Jun 14, 2024


Cape Town - The report into an over 100-year-old white supremacist residence at Stellenbosch University (SU), likened to the KKK, found that its existence and activities were known by many – including by some staff – who referred to it as an “open secret”.

A panel comprising advocate Nick de Jager, Dr Derek Swemmer and Penny van der Bank was appointed to investigate following the disturbing discovery of two rooms at the Wilgenhof Residence in January.

“Hool 88” (Lair 88) was a room on the ground floor of the main Wilgenhof building facing on to the quad; and the Toe Argief (closed archive), located in the “Bachelors” wing of Wilgenhof Primarius’ suite.

“Hool 88” was the room where Wilgenhof’s internal disciplinary committee, “the Nagligte”, conducted their “disciplinary activities” at night.

Submissions to the panel confirmed the number 88 was used to symbolise white supremacy, in reference to the phrase “Heil Hitler” or “HH”, with the letter H the eighth in the alphabet.

The number was used in the rooms and on its contents to convey white supremacy, the report found.

The contained records and memorabilia including Nagligte costumes, shoes and paraphernalia, including black robes with pointed hoods-eerily similar to the KKK.

The report recommended that SU facilitate dialogue with staff, students, and their leadership; that all rooms in residences are periodically audited and inspected; and that all items found be kept in the SU Archive and/or SU Museum.

The panel also recommended that the Student Disciplinary Office investigate an individual and whether he is still a registered student in relation to off-campus Nagligte initiation in 2023.

The investigation may lead to the “implication” of further student leaders or others.

The symbols and practices of Wilgenhof were connected with those of the KKK, Nazism and white supremacy and its practices involved nudity, sexually inappropriate behaviour and molestation.

The rooms were opened by SU authorities in the week of January 9, and its contents stored and the rooms sanitised and repainted.

According to the report, when the first Wilgenhof students returned on January 19, “they were shocked and upset about the action that had been taken”.

Since 1903, the residence has been predominantly, white, male and Afrikaner. In 1914, the Nagligte were formed as Wilgenhof’s internal disciplinary and were initially responsible for initiation and residence disciplinary functions.

The Nagligte committee comprises 10 members elected annually by the residence to serve for a year and is an unofficial committee.

For most of the past 110 years, the Nagligte have been active. In 2023, Nagligte activities were taken off campus and hosted with the help from a private company on a private farm.

Reunions were periodically held at Wilgenhof, during which “ou-Wilgenhoffers” demanded to experience the Nagligte ritual, the report found.

“The fact that ou-Wilgenhoffers can come on to SU campus and relive these rituals demonstrates, at its lowest, that SU is not opposed to such activities in the name of tradition,” the report stated.

The report found that the activities of the Nagligte were an open secret.

“As long ago as 1964, the architect’s plans for the new Wilgenhof building show the Nagligte’s discipline room clearly marked as “KAMER 88”. Those plans must have been reviewed and approved by senior SU administrators.”

In 2019, two anonymous complaints from Wilgenhof students about their treatment were not escalated to the rectorate as they should have been.

The university said the rectorate has unanimously accepted the recommendation of closing the residence, and the rector will recommend to Council that Wilgenhof Residence be closed. Council is expected to consider the Rector’s recommendations at its meeting on June 24.

Rector and vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers said: “This recommendation, on the recommendation of the panel, if accepted by Council, will result in the closure of Wilgenhof at the end of the 2024 academic year. Alternative uses of the space will be discussed with a view to be effected during 2025.”

Student Representative Council president Phiwokuhle Qabaka said they welcomed the report and were satisfied with the recommendations, urging that Council take the decisive decision.

“The student body has been calling for the closure of that residence at one of our recent Parliament sittings.”

She called the use of the private farm for Nagligte activities and signing of indemnity agreements highly disturbing.

She said the SRC supported the residence closure and renovating it to be a co-ed, with a name change.

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Cape Argus