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New research links with Russia ‘impossible’, says Stellenbosch

Image: Stellenbosch University

South African university’s comments follow vice-chancellor’s controversial meeting with Russian consul general

Stellenbosch University has called the establishment of new research links with Russia “impossible” due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the resulting geopolitical tensions.

The comment, on 19 February, came after the South African university drew criticism when it emerged that vice-chancellor Wim de Villiers (pictured) had hosted Aleksei Malenko, Russia’s consul general in Cape Town, the week before.

The consulate tweeted on 17 February: “Today Russian consul general in Cape Town Mr A Malenko held a meeting with rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University W de Villiers. The parties discussed [the] prospective of future cooperation in different spheres.”

Responses on the social media platform to the tweet ranged from support for the meeting to disgust. Leon Schreiber, an MP for South Africa’s main opposition party the Democratic Alliance, wrote: “This is what leadership bereft of all principle looks like.”

The university published a statement on its website saying that the meeting with the consul general was “purely academic in nature” and that De Villiers had “clearly framed the meeting within the understanding of the current geopolitical environment that makes collaboration impossible”. It added that the university “stands firmly against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.

No new partnerships

In a statement to Research Professional News, a university spokesperson clarified that the comment referred to the initiation of new partnerships. A partnership with the HSE National Research University in Moscow, agreed “a number of years ago”, is still in place, they said.

“While we cannot prescribe the individual actions of our lecturers and students, there have been no reports regarding academic collaboration resuming between Stellenbosch University and Russian academics since 2021,” the spokesperson said.

“The university will not, and has not, pursued any further partnerships, as made clear by the vice-chancellor,” they added.