Arleen Stone

Although most Maties students rarely refer to the Stellenbosch University’s (SU) main campus library by name, a recent renaming hopes to create change. In an official press release, the university said this decision forms part of a larger effort to promote transformation and the “furtherance of a welcoming culture” at the institution.

Students regularly refer to the iconic underground library, formerly known as the “JS Gericke Library”, simply as the “Bib” or the “Library”.

In 2015 the SU’s Committee for the Naming of Buildings, Venues and Other Facilities/Premises started a proposed process of renaming, which included input from a task team, led by prof Hendrik Bosman, acting dean of the theology faculty, as well as other staff, student representatives and the Gericke family.

With the majority of votes opting for a descriptive rather than a symbolic name or that of a well-known person, the name “Stellenbosch University Library” was chosen. Translations of the name are also given in Afrikaans (“Universiteit New library name to “promote transformation” at Stellenbosch Stellenbosch Biblioteek) and in isiXhosa (“IThala leeNcwadi leYunisivesithi yaseStellenbosch”).

The current SRC chairperson, Lwando Nkamisa, who was still the leader of the DA Student Organisation (DASO) at the time the task team was deliberating, said he and the rest of the SRC are content with the name choice.

“It helps in terms of easing conflict, because there will be no students saying ‘Why is the name not only in isiXhosa, Afrikaans or English’, or ‘Why is it not named after a struggle hero’, or anyone else. I also feel that in terms of the naming of buildings in the future, it will probably be best to cease to name buildings after certain people, because there is no person who is perfect.”

According to the SU, “more than 80% of the senior library staff preferred the descriptive or functional renaming”.

Ellen Tise, senior director at the library, says the library personal are happy with the change and also hopes that current and new students, as well as staff members and visitors, will feel more welcome at the institution.

The university also has five other libraries across its various campuses, namely the libraries for Medicine & Health Sciences at Tygerberg, Engineering & Forestry, Music, Theology (the oldest on campus), and the USBI (Belville Park Campus Information Centre).

History of the JS Gericke Library:

The JS Gericke Library was named after the Reverend JS (Kosie) Gericke, who served as Vice-chancellor of the university from 1952 to 1981, the same year construction commenced. It was built underneath the Jan Marais Square (also known as the “Rooiplein”), as there were no other centrally situated building sites available at the time and the university’s management did not want to deface the square with a multistoreyed building.

Other renamed SU buildings:

• The Coetzenburg centre in 2014, formerly known as the DF Malan-memorial centre
• The Arts and Social Sciences faculty, formerly known as the BJ Vorster Building
• The Accounting and Statistics Building, formerly known as the HF Verwoerd Building

Photo: Gizellede Götz