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By Carien Grobler

Deputy Digital Editor

Wilgenhof: Report spotlights Nagligte-KKK-Nazism parallels

In a report the activities, costumes and symbolism of the Nagligte (Wilgenhof’s internal disciplinary committee which was founded in 1914) is compared to that of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as Nazism.

The Nagligte disciplinary process is at its essence an ingeniously conceived and choreographed theatrical experience, laden with humour, irony, and secrecy. There is no physical violence or humiliation. None of the costumes or practices of the Nagligte originate from, or are intended to reference, any racist
or white supremacist basis or ideology.

This is one of the statements by previous residents (ou-Wilgenhoffers) which were dismissed by a panel that investigated the Wilgenhof men’s residence at the Stellenbosch University (SU). The members of the panel are Nic Jager, an advocate, Dr Derek Swemmer, an executive higher education consultant, and Ms Penny van der Bank, Deputy Registrar for Governance at SU. The panel was tasked to investigate the shocking findings in two rooms in the residence after it was unlocked on 9 January this year.

In the report the panel compared the activities, costumes and symbolism of the Nagligte (Wilgenhof’s internal disciplinary committee which was founded in 1914), to that of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), as well as Nazism.

The rooms in question are Hool 88, a room on the ground floor of the main Wilgenhof building facing the quad, where the Nagligte conducted their activities at night, and “Toe Argief” (English: closed archive or TA) located in the ‘Bachelors’ wing of Wilgenhof, adjoining the primarius’ suite.

Panel concludes ’88’ symbolism linked to white supremacy

According to the panel’s report, a number of written and oral submissions were made by ou-Wilgenhoffers to dismiss or explain away the use of the number 88, and to disavow any connection with Nazism. However, “no reasonable or acceptable explanation was received”.

The explanations included that Hool 88 was situated between room numbers 87 and 89, that the original Wilgenhof building consisted of 44 rooms and the new building doubled the capacity of the residence, and that there are rooms and tunnels under the quad; the one below 88 is 44.

The panel found that the first explanation is patently false and that the second explanation is also without any factual foundation. “The third explanation is so far-fetched as to deserve no further comment.”

The number “88” is frequently used by the Nagligte on their costumes, to name Hool 88 and elsewhere, the report reads.

“Expert submissions to the panel confirmed that the number 88 has an established symbolism and association with white supremacy. The number references the phrase ‘Heil Hitler’ or ‘HH,’ which becomes 88, when H (the eighth letter of the alphabet) is replaced with 8. The number 88 was used in the two rooms and on their contents to convey notions of white supremacy.”

This number came into increasing use as a white supremacist symbol from 1933 onwards, when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany.

According to the report, a timeline banner in the TA records the building of “die Heilige Hool 88” in 1964. The phrase “heilige hool” also seems to echo the word “heil” and play on HH.

In the TA there was a photograph of a student in the Wilgenhof quad wearing what appeared to be a Nazi uniform with a swastika on his sleeve, the panel found.

The report also notes that in the architect’s plans for the new Wilgenhof building in 1964 show the Nagligte’s discipline room clearly marked as “KAMER 88”. “Those plans must have been reviewed and approved by senior SU administrators. Until 1 December 2023, all former residence heads of Wilgenhof were ou-Wilgenhoffers. They knew and experienced the Nagligte both as students and staff. They obviously knew of the two rooms, too.”

The panel found the most striking symbol used by the Nagligte are undoubtedly their costumes — full black costumes and pointed hoods.

“That there are striking parallels between Nagligte symbols, practices, and late-night raids of the KKK cannot be denied. This was confirmed to the panel by experts.”

The report goes on to explain that the Klan is quintessentially a white supremacist terror group, founded in the American South in the 1800s. “Their chilling activities to harass, brutalise and murder black people (African Americans) are well documented.”

The Nagligte, like the Klan, also spoke in falsetto voices and conducted their activities at night.

The African American victims of the Klan were known to be taken from their homes at night, after which they were subjected to punishment, often naked or partially naked, on a table while surrounded by KKK members.

Until 2020, the subjects of the Nagligte were naked and were only allowed to wear a vest and underpants since 2020.

However, numerous present and ou-Wilgenhoffers strongly repudiated any connection between the Nagligte and the KKK, or any parallels between the two organisations. They informed the panel that the inspiration for the nagligte garb was drawn from medieval executioners in Europe or China and that the connection was by random chance.

However, this did not convince the panel and “does not dislodge the essential features of the Nagligte ritual, namely absolute power exercised by white males; inhumanity; secrecy; secret punishment and intimidating/outnumbering the subject. The subject is rendered vulnerable by being partially clad; and the enforcement of rigid conformity, which remain clear and present”.

Panel considers alternative uses for buildings

According to a statement by the US, Prof. Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, will, on the basis of the report, recommend to the SU council to close Wilgenhof permanently and consider alternative uses for the buildings.

The council will consider his recommendations at its meeting on 24 June 2024.

NOW READ: Shocking secrets in SU Wilgenhof residence; closure recommended by panel

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