Much-loved Visitors’ Book retires due to POPI Act

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Director of Communication and Advancement, Luzuko Jacobs, with the Visitors' Book outside the Alumni House building
Director of Communication and Advancement, Luzuko Jacobs, with the Visitors' Book outside the Alumni House building

Situated for years in full view in the Alumni House foyer, a historical Visitors’ Book has been available for students, parents, alumni, and visitors to comment in and leave their details. Sadly, due to the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), this book will no longer be able to be used for its intended purpose.

The book seems to have come into existence during a Gqeberha (then Port Elizabeth) reunion on 08 April 1963, as the first tranche of entries list their addresses as PE, Walmer, or Uitenhage. The columns in the book include current date, name, physical address, phone number and date of departure from Rhodes University.

To put this time frame into perspective, the student newspaper (called Rhodeo at the time) ran an edition on the same day, and some of the article highlights included:

  • Five Rhodes students were fined R4 each by the SRC Disciplinary Committee - the maximum fine they are empowered to impose - for "disgraceful" behaviour at Inky Debate the previous Friday. Firecrackers, tomatoes, and toilet rolls were thrown at the speakers on the stage. The chaos apparently erupted when a woman member of the SRC took the stage to present her view on the motion "For the modern Rhodes woman intellectual qualities are more important than physical attributes".
  • Student leaders succeeded in persuading the Senate that Rhodians were mature enough to be allowed a liquor licence at University balls; and the Senate agreed to test student responsibility by issuing a temporary licence, at first for only six months, and then for a further year.
  • "Serious financial problems" are making it increasingly difficult for the NUSAS Loan Fund to provide adequate loans to students. At present, the fund is able to help only about a quarter of the applicants for loans.
  • A total of 301 Rhodes Graduands received degrees at the graduation ceremony. Honorary doctorates were Mr Harry Oppenheimer (financier and industrialist - Doctor of Laws); Prof P. R. Kirby (musicologist, composer and world authority on African music - Doctor of Literature); and the Rev. R. H. W. Shepherd (Doctor of Divinity).
  • More than 300 students unanimously rejected the Government's ban on African spectators at sports functions on the Great Field. A crowded GLT heard speaker after speaker protest against the ban which prevented Africans from attending Campus Carnival the previous Saturday, and which will bar them from watching rugby matches on the field.

The earliest recorded departure of the 1963 visitor cohort was 1919, but the earliest recorded departure date overall was 1907 from and Old Rhodian Reunion in 1971 which took place in Makhanda (then Grahamstown).

The book was initially used for special occasions, such as reunions, orientations and National Arts Festival and only factual details were requested.

It was only during Rhodes University’s centenary in 2004 that a comment section was added – as well as an “email address” column. The Centenary portion of the book constitutes the most entries, with 370 entries over a five-day period (01-05 July 2004).

There were many comments about nostalgia and several comments stated they were “still here” as alumni who never left the University.

Some funny comments included “With a hangover – nothing has changed!” and one entry simply read “42”.

Some of the furthest places the Book’s entrants came from at the time of their visit to the University include South Korea, New Zealand, USA, and England.

Finally, the last entry in the book was written on 20 September 2019 from an alumna who studied at Rhodes University in the late 1970s.

“The quaint and charming Visitors’ Book has served the Rhodes University community network well over the years and provides an interesting glance of the history and transformation of the University since 1963,” said Luzuko Jacobs, Director for Communication and Advancement.

We have now replaced it with modern forms of contact sharing and engagement such as our flagship platform, he said.

In its retirement, the Book will be kept securely and appropriately archived by the Division.