The University of Stellenbosch does not want to get involved with the De Villiers-bursary fund, even though the South African Court of Appeal recently ruled it to be acceptable for only white students to receive the funding.
Daphné de Villiers, a long-time resident of Stellenbosch, was the founder of the Jean-Pierre de Villiers-trust, named after her husband – a renowned organic chemist in his day. She (De Villiers) had two doctorates in applied chemistry – one from the University of Oxford in England and one from the University of Pretoria.
Her will stated that a part of the trust’s income must be utilised to aid white students in the form of bursaries, which in turn will allow them to obtain a doctorate at a European university after completing an MSc-degree in Organic Chemistry at any South African university.
The official website of Die Beeld reported that De Villiers was warned about the possible obstacles of awarding bursaries based on race, but she apparently insisted on it. She also specified that if the bursaries are not awarded, the money would be donated to a charity organisation.
After her death in 2006 the De Villiers-trustees approached the four universities that De Villiers named in her will, namely Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Bloemfontein and Pretoria. None of the nominated universities wanted to get involved with the bursary.
The trustees took the issue to court in an attempt to change the relevant paragraph in the will so that the bursary could be awarded to students of all races. In early 2011 the Cape High Court ruled the testatrix’s direction not executable and that the funds, as per De Villiers’ wishes, would be donated to a charity organisation.
This year the trustees took their case to the Appeal Court, where a similar judgement was delivered on 27 September. Both verdicts affirmed the testator’s “freedom of testation”.
According to Susan van der Merwe, Head of Marketing and Publication at the University of Stellenbosch, SU-policy states that “no new bursaries are accepted on the grounds of unfair-discriminatory conditions.”
Gerhard Lipp, Director of legal services at SU, and prof. Marius de Waal of the Law Faculty, said that the Appeal Court judgement “should not be seen as a precedent that all bursaries that are exclusive to white students are now given the green light by this court ruling”
They also confirmed that the court delivered no judgement on the university’s right or duty to accept and implement the findings, and that the SU bursary-policy is thus left unchanged.
According to Lipp and De Waal discrimination is not necessarily unfair. They refer to a previous Appeal Court verdict that found that bursaries restricted to women are tolerable, but there are other cases that found that bursaries restricted to men should be expunged.
“It revolves around the differentiation to support previously disadvantaged groups.”
“The courts are still to pass judgement on the merit whether bursaries for black only students are allowable or not . On the grounds of the differentiation-argument, it is possible that the verdict will pass, but this is pure speculation.”
“We now know on the grounds of previous verdicts that exclusively white bursaries are deemed unacceptable.”
It is unclear to which verdicts are being referred to.
According to the SU-yearbook for Bursaries and Loans, there are currently three bursaries that have racial-conditions. The Rodney Africa-bursary is awarded to coloured and black students, the Map-bursary awarded to brown students and the SAWISE Angus-bursary given to “female, black graduates.”