The University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) first Vice-Rector has finally revealed a secret he has kept for more than three decades.
Professor Jaap Durand tricked the apartheid government into spending money for infrastructure at the University that was built to offer limited training for Coloureds only.
But UWC defied the authorities and opened its doors to all students and become the “intellectual home of the left”.
When UWC’s library was built, Professor Durand secretly convinced the architect to build a glass brick into the atrium on the ground floor. The library was officially opened in 1989.
“It was a parody of what was happening at the Voortrekker Monument,” Prof Durand said while on a rare visit to the University earlier this year.
At the Voortrekker Monument on December 16 – the commemoration of the Day of the Vow/Covenant – the dome is opened at the monument and a ray of light shines on a cenotaph.
He explained that he wanted the light from the library’s glass ceiling to permeate the brick into the dark auditorium in the basement. This serves to commemorate 16 June 1976 as well as to remember the UWC students who fought against apartheid.
Prof Durand has kept his tribute to the students secret, even from his closest colleagues, for more than 30 years. This year when he visited the University he was surprised to see the modest glass brick still embedded in the floor of the atrium. And when he made his way down to the auditorium he could see the light shining through.
Director of UWC’s Institutional Advancement, Patricia Lawrence, describes the brick in the library as a powerful symbol. “It might look innocuous but it is a very powerful symbol of what the institution stands for,” she said.
In the mid-1970s, UWC was finding its way from being a bush college to being an institution that was critically engaged with the realities of apartheid South Africa. In 1980 Prof Durand became UWC’s first-ever Vice-Rector, and with the support of Rector Richard van der Ross, he began the process of re-imagining the University’s intellectual identity. Together with the likes of Professor Jakes Gerwel and others, they led public demonstrations and faced the rubber bullets and teargas, but through it all Prof Durand was uncompromising in his drive to achieve academic excellence at UWC.
Celebrating the legacy of Prof Jaap Durand – one of UWCs pillars during the fight against apartheid.
Professor Johannes Jacobus (Jaap) Fourie Durand, a theologian, was in charge of academic and physical planning. Carefully allocating resources, guiding new appointments, and working with some of South Africa’s best architects, he helped UWC transform into one of South Africa’s leading institutions.
He was born on 5 June 1934 in the Free State, and he studied Philosophy and Theology at the University of the Free State. He continued his studies at Stellenbosch University and then at the Free University in Amsterdam.
He began his career as a working minister in the Transkei before moving into academia and taking up a position as Professor of Systematic Theology at UWC, where he proved himself so valuable that he was appointed as deputy vice-chancellor in 1981.
“He began the process of reconceptualising UWC’s intellectual vision, drawing the deans and other leaders together around the process, and unleashing exciting intellectual vitality in a university in the thick of political upheaval,” the late UWC Professor Stanley Ridge once said.
Author: Aidan van den Heever