First black students taught white friends to toyitoyi

UNIVERSITY LEADERS: Prof SJ Schoeman, Prof E Marais and Dr FJC Cronje
UNIVERSITY LEADERS: Prof SJ Schoeman, Prof E Marais and Dr FJC Cronje

The University of Port Elizabeth’s first black student representative council member this week stepped back in time to recall the tentative first years of establishing a diverse institution.

St Claire Adriaan, who did a B Ed at the university from 1991 to 1995, spoke this week from the US, where he is now based, about his student memories.

“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. There were few people of colour enrolled at the university and to most of us it was just a place to study, not our university.

“To me it was important that it became ‘our’ university. This could not happen unless we became involved. It all started with the Oppidani House Committee,” he said.

Students who do not live in a campus residence are known as Oppidans, or Oppies. Their “house” is Oppidani House.

“After our first-year orientation many friendships across the colour line were formed and students of colour started hanging out at the Oppidani Centre,” he said. “I will never forget teaching our white friend the Oppidani toyitoyi, which was a huge hit at the athletics and stayed for years.”

By getting involved they were able to come together as a student body and it became apparent there were no major differences between them except the colour of their skins.

The university was going through a transformation and Adriaan was actively involved in this process on various committees – from electing Professor Jan Kirsten as chancellor, to serving on the university council, senate and the transformation committee.

“The highlight was lowering the old South African flag and hoisting the new flag, ushering in the post-democracy winds of change,” he said.

– The Herald Reporter 

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