28 June 2018 Photo Supplied
Reitz book wins sought-after UFS Book Prize
Back from left; JC van der Merwe; Prof Corli Witthuhn, front from left; Dionne van Reenen and Dr Glen Taylor, Senior Director of Research Development.

Having been described “a brave book” by Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research, Transformation and Legitimation in Post-apartheid Universities by JC van der Merwe and Dionne van Reenen, is the deserving winner of the University of the Free State (UFS) Book Prize for 2017.

“This award is confirmation that our research and reflections produced sound scholarly work,” said Van der Merwe. He added that they recognised it was impossible for one research study to tell the whole story about Reitz, which reached a level of complexity that extended beyond a single reading of evidence and discourses.

Van der Merwe is the Acting Director of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice at the UFS and his co-author, Van Reenen is also a researcher at the institute. 

Book critically discusses pivotal moment
According to this year’s external evaluation, the winning book is a competent account of the struggle of one institution with identity, culture, race and transformation.  

“Congratulations to JC van der Merwe and Dionne van Reenen on winning the 2017 UFS book prize with their book. This is a brave book written with deep understanding and modulated moral anger,” said Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector; Research at the UFS.

“In critically focusing on a moment in the history of UFS – the infamous Reitz event – JC and Dionne enable us to understand the depth and embedded nature of racism in our higher education institutions.”

Unpacking the Reitz incident 
The concept for the book dates back to 2011 said Van der Merwe. “I conceptualised and organised a series of semi-structured interviews with key members of the UFS senior staff and student leaders who were in office at the time of the Reitz video.”.

He then began to formulate the structure of the book – the aim of which was to contextualise and unpack the Reitz incident by conducting an in-depth investigation into the event itself, the rhetoric surrounding it, and the set of practices and ideas in which it was embedded. Van Reenen joined the UFS after the interviews and was therefore the perfect interlocutor in discussing the events prior to and after 2008.

“They deliver a theoretically rich analysis of the anatomy of current contestation about race and transformation in higher education in South Africa, the resultant legitimation crisis facing the UFS and South African universities more generally, as well as ways to restore institutional legitimacy and reputation focusing on instituting deeper and more durable change that unlocks the promise of democracy,” Prof Witthuhn said.