By Sian Cohen & Greg Aldridge
Pic by Sean William Messham
Alcohol Awareness Week began with the well-attended “Save Tri-Varsity Debate” in Eden Grove Red on Monday 18 February. While no resolution was reached, the University has promised to hold a follow-up meeting two weeks before the upcoming Tri-Varsity at Fort Hare, much to the disappointment of students who expected this year’s event to be held at Rhodes.
A move to Fort Hare would mean that the sporting events would be split between the Alice and East London campuses, and participants and spectators would have to travel between the two.
The event opened with an address from Vice-Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat. He stated his disappointment with the circumstances under which the debate had to occur and expressed his concern about retaining Rhodes University’s reputation as an institution “where leaders learn”.
Badat said Rhodes aimed to foster an environment of academics, culture and sporting development. He said Rhodes “will not be judged by how many students are Proteas, but judged on the pass rate”. Our pass rate currently stands at 87% and is one of the highest in the country.
Tri-Varsity serves as “healthy competition” between the three universities and should not be destructive to their relationship, added Badat. This relationship has been jeopardised due to the alleged unruly behavior of Rhodes students.
Although Badat found Tri-Varsity to be generally successful, a few examples of students who take the opportunity to “booze up” are reason for concern. Badat recalled particular examples of poor conduct where he bore witness to drunken men being helped back to their rooms and a woman left almost comatose on the floor–Badat had to intervene in the latter instance.
Although Badat noticed the enthusiastic atmosphere Rhodes students brought to the 2007 Tri-Varsity, hosted by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), he returned concerned. Three prominent issues he noted were: students passing out from excessive alcohol consumption; students vomiting in public; and students displaying rude and uncooperative behaviour. Some students even risked their lives by climbing onto a ledge behind the sports stadium. There was also a serious incident between campus security and a Rhodes student, during which Badat intervened after the student was kicked in the head. Badat felt embarrassed by the behavior of some of the students.
An external perception is that, of the three universities, Rhodes students come from predominantly affluent social backgrounds. Dean of Students Professor Vivian de Klerk spoke to Activate about the history of Tri-Varsity. Around the year 2000 it became a matter of “mindless drunken disorder” said de Klerk, noting an incident from last year when a student pulled his pants down in front of the VIP box and displayed his private parts.
De Klerk said the universities have met and discussed various options for Tri-Varsity. She would like to see Tri-Varsity continue, however the event should focus on sport and students should drink responsibly. She encouraged the student body to challenge Rhodes’ reputation as a drinking university.
Kerr Rogers, Acting head of Rhodes Sports Administration stated that Tri-Varsity is the biggest inter-varsity multi-sport event held in South Africa. He is concerned about the spectators and their behaviour as it could determine whether the event will continue or not.
Xolani Nyali, SRC president, pointed out that drinking at Rhodes is an “institutional culture” however the demographics of the room at the Tri-Varsity debate indicated a predominantly white presence. In a later interview he commented that Tri-Varsity “is mostly attended by white people, but that’s not the problem”. He went on to say that there needs to be an investigation into why other students don’t attend Tri-Varsity. Nyali said he would like to see Tri-Varsity continue however he questions why the majority of black students don’t attend Tri-Varsity.