UFS changes

2008-05-28 00:00

It was announced yesterday that the Reitz student residence on the campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) is to be closed by the end of the semester. A budget of

R1 million has been set aside for the replacement of the residence with an “institute for diversity”. Students in the residence were told by university management that the closure was on grounds of tough international pressure.

UFS in general, and Reitz Residence in particular, became notorious earlier this year because of a demeaning video featuring black university employees, made by former Reitz residents. This sparked a national and international outcry. Clearly something had to be done, but one must question if the closure of the residence is the right move. To outsiders, anyway, it looks very much like an effort to blot out the unpleasantness, to expunge it from consciousness and, by giving the building a different name and dedicating it to racial diversity, to demonstrate that UFS’s heart is in the right, modern, enlightened, non-racial and multiracial place.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. Indeed. Changing the name of the building and putting it to politically correct use cannot undo what was done within its walls. Even so, the racism on ugly display at Reitz did not reside in the bricks and mortar of the building, but in the hearts and minds of those who made the video. And that these students thought the video a fun idea indicates that, probably, the atmosphere at UFS was conducive to it. In other words, it’s likely that the whole of UFS was stuck in a racist time warp, and that Reitz was simply the most blatant example of that prevailing mindset.

As we have seen repeatedly since 1994, attempting to erase bad stuff from the past, or attempting to paper prettily over it, doesn’t work. UFS doesn’t need to make cosmetic changes, but to embark on a process of self-examination, and of finding ways to educate its students away from Afrikaner isolationism and towards becoming complete South Africans and thus complete citizens of the world.

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