The University of the Western Cape (UWC) began its life as a site for limited coloured higher education – a restricted, disconnected geographical space. But successive leaders at UWC and beyond have rejected this notion of an apartheid institution, and worked to develop a more community-based approach to the academic project.
On November 13, 58 years after the first students arrived at UWC’s main campus, the university grew beyond its apartheid cocoon with the official opening of the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences Bellville Campus in the Bellville central business district (CBD).
“The opening of this building provides a strong lesson for all of us: you don’t have to let your past determine your future,” said Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, at the launch. “We determine the fate of our lives, and of our country – and when we own that, we can achieve great things. I see this university owning its fate.”
The Bellville campus is mainly an educational facility for the moment, and its 10 storeys host four UWC departments: Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, the School of Nursing, and the School of Natural Medicine. With much of CHS still located on UWC’s Main Campus, this also marks the faculty’s transition into a multi-campus force for public health.
“As Dean of the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences of UWC, I know first-hand how important community is to us,” said CHS Dean, Professor Anthea Rhoda.
“Bellville has been the home of UWC for almost 60 years. And while both the university and the community have grown from strength to strength, this new campus can help bring us closer together, and chart an even greater future.”
The building, located in the former Jan S Marais Hospital and Salus House, doesn’t just have multiple seminar rooms, tutorial rooms and classrooms, dedicated staff areas, and parking, there’s also a spacious multipurpose hall able to sub-divide into smaller rooms for 60 to 120 students; training simulation labs for teaching basic nursing skills; psychology and midwifery; a rehabilitation gym for the occupational therapy and physiotherapy departments; natural medicine laboratories with treatment rooms and dispensaries; computer labs and resource centres; multi-faith prayer rooms, and more.
“There are many examples of universities that are embedded within communities or occupy a central status within a town,” UWC’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, noted. “These universities and their towns feed off each other, and their fates and fortunes are interconnected. This is what we envision for UWC – and this is therefore a significant milestone for us.”
The new UWC CHS Bellville campus is an outgrowth of UWC’s commitment to the urban renewal strategy to uplift the Bellville surrounds and city centre as part of the improvement strategy of the Greater Tygerberg Partnership (GTP).
“I’m really pleased to see the university’s expansion. When I look around, I see a young and vibrant university outgrowing and shedding, very spiritedly and in a determined and strategic fashion, its apartheid roots – and transforming itself into an exemplary institution of higher education and community.
“The first students to enroll at the University College of the Western Cape (as it was then known) would almost certainly be watching us in awe,” Ms Pandor said. “And the apartheid architects who dreamt up a university for coloured people and stuck it on the Cape Flats could never have imagined your spirit and resilience.
“I’m sure, wherever he is, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd must be turning in his grave.”