Reitz, Race, Rights and Reconciliation

Date: 29th October

Dionne van Reenen – Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, University of the Free State, South Africa

In 2007, the student residences at the University of the Free State (UFS) were still racially segregated some 14 years into democracy in South Africa. In ongoing efforts to transform this historically white, Christian, national, Afrikaans university, the Management at the time had taken a decision in Council to implement a policy from the beginning of 2008 which was to see the end of racial segregation in all residences on campus, of which the President Reitz Bungalows was one.

Until 2008, this exclusively white, male residence enjoyed an undisrupted continuance of its long, proud tradition at the UFS. Late in 2007, four students of this residence resolved to take a stand against what was termed (by many conservative university stakeholders at the time) “forced integration”. This protest was recorded in the form of a homemade video which was entered in a competition during the residence’s “cultural evening”. The video was well-received and thought to be both entertaining and amusing, despite its shockingly racist content. While the video remained internal, nothing was done or said about its existence. It was never formally reported to any university authority. Most members did not know of its existence. However, in the beginning of 2008, amongst violent student protests against “forced integration”, the video was made public after being discovered on an internal university website by two students from one of the black residences. Within hours, the video was being shown in public and, before long, on several local and international television news networks. Widespread outrage and conflict ensued and the impact on the university was catastrophic.

This study makes use of stakeholder interviews, media reports and papers on the subject of ‘Reitz’ in order to make some sense of the content and context of the video and why its impact on higher education transformation in South Africa was so significant.