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History of the IRSJ


On 26 February 2008, the racially insulting video made at the Reitz residence surfaced on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State. The management of the university initiated several interventions, including the appointment of a number of external agencies to address specific issues; namely, Thinking Fusion for strategic marketing and communication, Igubu Leadership Agency for the consolidation of the commitment of the UFS to implement a policy to enhance racial integration in the residences on the Bloemfontein Campus of the UFS, and Brian Gibson Issue Management (BGIM) for the management of the perception/reputation of the university after the damage done to its public image by the 'Reitz' incident.

On 27 May 2008, the UFS announced the closure of the Reitz residence. This announcement started a chain reaction of inputs by alumni, current students, parents, political parties, and legal representatives of various parties. The establishment of an Institute for Diversity (on the site of the closed Reitz residence) was also announced, which would serve as a centre of academic excellence for studying transformation and diversity in society. It would be a living laboratory for combating discrimination and enabling and enhancing reconciliation in societies grappling with the issues of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. The Reitz residence was officially closed on 30 July 2008.

Establishment of the Institute for Diversity

Brian Gibson Issue Management (BGIM) took initial responsibility for the establishment of the Institute for Diversity and the assembling of an advisory panel. A UFS discussion group, convened by Prof Teuns Verschoor, the then-acting Rector of the UFS, met on a regular basis with BGIM to render assistance in this regard. The UFS committed seed funding for the initial 'establishment' processes, among others for the funding of the director for the first five years. The International Institute for Development and Ethics (IIDE) presented a colloquium entitled 'Emerging perspectives on the Ethics of Development and Transformation' on the Bloemfontein Campus of the UFS on 17 September 2008 and was invited by BGIM to join in the facilitation of the inaugural meeting of the advisory panel on the Institute for Diversity.

The inaugural meeting of the advisory panel for the (International) Institute for Diversity took place on 20 November 2008. A number of invited experts on diversity, transformation, change management, and conflict management gathered at the UFS to provide advice on the establishment of the ID. The meeting was organised and facilitated by BGIM, assisted by IIDE. The Chief Directorate: Community Service (CDCS) was requested by the Office of the Rector to render organisational support for the establishment of the Institute for Diversity, and the final report on the inaugural meeting of the Advisory Panel for the (International) Institute for Diversity was completed by BGIM in January 2009.

Ongoing consultation took place between CDCS and the acting rector on the compilation of discussion documents regarding the Institute for Diversity for the attention of the UFS management.  The Director: Research Development and Director: Internationalisation also provided input. Prof Josephine Allen, visiting Fulbright scholar tasked with researching transformation at the UFS, visited the UFS and consulted with a variety of proposed role players to be involved in the establishment of the Institute for Diversity. She completed her report in March 2009, and a discussion document pertaining to the establishment of the Institute for Diversity was then submitted by the acting rector for the approval of the Executive Committee (EXCO) and for subsequent forwarding of the approved proposal to the Executive Management (EM) of the UFS.

The approved EXCO document was submitted to the EM of the UFS for consideration and approval on 4 May 2009, and a discussion document allowing for the creation of an Interim Management Committee (IMC), tasked with facilitating the establishment of the Institute for Diversity, was approved. Invitations to the initial meeting of the IMC were forwarded by the CDCS, and the first meeting of the IMC was held on 27 May 2009. CDCS met Prof Allen for an update on the establishment of the Institute for Diversity during July 2009. On 5 September 2009, a meeting of a second advisory panel was held at the UFS. A number of invited experts on diversity, transformation, change management, and conflict management, identified by the new UFS Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Jonathan Jansen, gathered at the UFS to provide advice on the establishment of the Institute for Diversity.

In his inaugural lecture on 16 October 2009, he announced the establishment of the Reitz Institute for Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice: Firstly, the university would become a place that exemplifies the scholarship and the practice of reconciliation, forgiveness, and social justice. Scholars and students from around the world would descend on the institution to study and understand the theory and practice of building community across the divides of race, but also religion, gender, dis/ability, national origins and, thanks to Athletics South Africa, sexual identity. In this respect, the university would soon launch what we hoped to call The Reitz Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice.

On 25 November 2009, a colloquium on 'Race, Reitz, and Rights' was hosted at the UFS. The colloquium was co-hosted by the Research Cluster: Transformation in Highly Diverse Societies and the Reitz Institute for Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice. A meeting of the interim management committee of the Reitz Institute for Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice took place the next day.

International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice

In January 2010, the rector tasked Rev Kiepie Jaftha (Chief Directorate: Community Service), Willem Ellis (International Institute for Development and Ethics), and JC van der Merwe (Department of Philosophy) to oversee the necessary interventions aimed at the legal founding of what was to be called the International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice. This included the finalisation of a founding document for the institute; the compilation of a concept constitution for the institute; and the refurbishment of DF Malherbe House for housing the institute. The initial idea to house the institute in the former Reitz residence has been found to be impractical, in part due to the structure of the Reitz residence and because of it being occupied by Chartered Accountant students. The constitution of the International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice was approved by the Council of the UFS in June 2010, and Mr John Samuel joined the UFS as interim Director of the Institute in July of that year.

On 27 January 2011, almost three years after the 'Reitz' incident, the institute was officially launched by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who received an honorary doctorate in Theology from the UFS at the same event. In his message of support, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said, “It is thus encouraging to see the UFS bringing to the fore such an initiative, which combines a study in Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice, all of which are indispensable elements in the process of rebuilding our nation. At the launch, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said, “We have it in us to become one of the most wonderful countries in the world. We have it in us to be a caring and compassionate land where everyone matters, where everyone counts. We look to you here in UFS starting this Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice to lead the way.”

Prof Andre Keet was appointed as director of the Institute in July 2011. Under his leadership, the institute adopted an innovative research agenda consisting of a variety of conceptual strategies and thematic areas under the overarching framework of Shared Complicities and Mutual Vulnerabilities: Democracies of Proximity (social cohesion) and the Futures of Justice. In September 2012, the UFS Council approved and adopted a proposal giving clearer expression to the institute’s mandate, as well as amending its structure and governance. Most notably, the institute’s name changed from the International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation, and Social Justice to the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ).

In July 2016, the institute celebrated its journey since 2011. This called for the institute to reflect on their work within the university space, to refine some of its initial functions and provide a prospect on how to continue to be instrumental in the transformation process of the university. Given the transformative landscape on which the IRSJ operates, its institutional unfolding and development will consistently change and its mandate and activities will be driven by the challenges emerging from this landscape. As Prof Keet said: “The institute, so young, paradoxically has a long history.”

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