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22 August 2018
Prof Coetzee is retelling old stories in a new book
"Failing to Learn Doomed to repeat" was one of the bookworks on display.

The title of Prof Jan K Coetzee’s latest book, Books & Bones & Other Things, says it all. The book looks into the many aspects that have built our society by presenting in a new way the stories contained in old books collected over the years. 

Prof Coetzee is a Senior Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State (UFS). Books & Bones & Other Things was launched on 14 August 2018 and coincided with an exhibition of various “bookworks”   art installations by Prof Coetzee that feature old books, sculptures, artefacts, and fossils.
 
Book resulting from research programme 
   

“This is a book on books so the library is the perfect venue to launch a book on old texts as documents of life,” said Prof Coetzee.

For the past seven years he has been directing a Master’s and PhD programme in Sociology called The Narrative Study of Lives. His project, Documents of Life, from which this book came, focuses on a collection of old texts the oldest of which dates back to 1605.

“We live in storytelling societies and for as long as we can remember we have been telling stories. Over time the ability to produce books was born. Any collection of books can tell you a lot about your own life and the society you live in."

“I cannot read the stories of many of these old books because their narratives are closed. I have to re-narrate the books, change the narrative convention and present them in a way that makes sense to me. By combining the books with art and artefacts I want the books to tell their ancient stories in new ways.”

Book launches and intellectual discussions

At the book launch, Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research said: “What we have achieved with this launch and exhibition is unbelievable. We always try to create an intellectual space in the library.

“A book such as this is the pinnacle of an academic career. It is multidisciplinary and it looks at the world in a different way. That is what scholarship is about.”

A painting by Robert Hodgins was also handed over to the Johannes Stegmann Gallery, home of the corporate collection of the UFS, at the event. 

News Archive

Situation on the Bloemfontein Campus, and letter to parents
2016-02-28

Letter to parents from Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS 

 

Statement by Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State (UFS) about the situation on the Bloemfontein Campus


1.    As all of you know, last night we witnessed a really tragic event at Xerox Shimla Park on the Bloemfontein Campus on the occasion of the Varsity Cup rugby match between NMMU (FNB Madibaz) and UFS (FNB Shimlas).
2.    The game started at 18:30 and about 17 minutes into the match, a group of protestors sitting on the north-eastern side of the stadium decided to invade the pitch and disrupt the game in progress.
3.    After a short while, some of the spectators also invaded the field, chasing and brutally beating those protestors whom they caught.
4.    As a university leadership we condemn in the strongest terms possible the vicious attack on the protestors. Nobody, repeat nobody, has the right to take the law into their own hands. While the protests were illegal and disruptive, it did not harm to the physical well-being of the spectators.
5.    The reaction from the group of spectators, however, not only opened old wounds, it trampled, literally and figuratively, on the dignity and humanity of other human beings. This we condemn in no uncertain terms, and no stone will be left unturned to find those who acted so violently on what should have been a beautiful occasion that also brought families and young children together to enjoy an evening of sport.
6.    I cannot over-emphasise our level of disgust and dismay at the behaviour of the spectators. It is NOT what the University of the Free State (UFS) is about and we are working around the clock to gather evidence on the basis of which we will pursue both charges and, in the case of students, also disciplinary action on campus.
7.    At the same time, the invasion of the pitch is also completely unacceptable and we will seek evidence on the basis of which we will act against those who decided to disrupt an official university event.
8.    Clashes between students occurred afterwards on campus and members of the Public Order Policing had to disperse some of them. The situation was stabilised in the early hours of the morning.
9.    Disruption continued this morning (23 February 2016) when students damaged some university buildings, a statue, and broke windows. Additional reinforcements from the South African Police Service were brought in to stabilise the campus. Additional security has also been deployed.


Broader picture
10.    We are very aware of the national crisis on university campuses and the instability currently underway. While the UFS has been largely peaceful, we have not been spared this turmoil, as last night’s events showed.
11.    We are also conscious of the fact that even as we speak, various political formations are vying for position inside the turmoil in this important election year. In fact, part of the difficulty of resolving competing demands is that they come from different political quarters, and change all the time.
12.    We are therefore learning from reliable sources that the Varsity Cup competition is, in fact, a target of national protests in front of a television audience.
13.    And we are aware of the fact that these protests are not only led by students but also by people from outside who have no association with the university. Just as the violent spectators involved on Monday night also included people from outside the university.

The demands

14.    My team has worked around the clock to try to meet the demands of contract workers demanding to be in-sourced. In fact, this weekend past, senior colleagues sat with worker leaders in the township to try to find ways of meeting their demands. We were hoping that such an agreement would be finalised by Monday afternoon (22 February 2016), but on the same Monday morning workers and students were arrested after moving onto Nelson Mandela Avenue, after which the South African Police Service (SAPS) took over as the matter became a public safety concern outside the hands of the university. Since then, it was difficult to return the workers to settle on a possible agreement.
15.    The fact is that the UFS has been in constant negotiation with contract workers to provide our colleagues with a decent wage and certain benefits. In fact, towards the end of last year we raised the minimum wage from R2 500 to R5 000. We were in fact hoping that the continued negotiations would improve that level of compensation even as we looked at a possible plan for insourcing in the future. We made it clear that if we could insource immediately, we would, but that the financial risk to the university was so great that it threatened the jobs of all our staff. Those negotiations were going well, until recently, when without notice the workers broke away and decided to protest on and around campus.
16.    While these negotiations were going on, the Student Representative Council (SRC) on Monday 22 February 2016 also decided to protest. While the vast majority of our 32 000 students were in classes and determined to get an education, a very small group led by the SRC President decided to protest; some invaded the UFS Sasol Library and the computer centre, and with the President eventually made their way to Xerox Shimla Park on which route they confronted the police, interrupted traffic and in fact injured some of our security staff as well as police officials.
17.    The university is definitely proceeding to collect evidence on these illegal and violent acts and will also act firmly against students involved in these protests.

Summary
18.    The events of Monday night represent a major setback for the transformation process at the UFS. While we have made major progress in recent years—from residence integration to a more inclusive language policy to a core curriculum to very successful ‘leadership for change’ interventions for student leaders—we still have a long way to go.
19.    One violent incident on a rugby field and we again see the long road ahead yet to be travelled. As I have often said before, you cannot deeply transform a century-old university and its community overnight. We acknowledge the progress but also the still long and difficult path ahead. We will not give up.
20.    We have 32 000 students on our campuses; the overwhelming majority of them are decent and committed to building bridges over old divides as we have seen over and over again. So many of our students, black and white, have become close and even intimate friends working hard to make this a better campus and ours a better community and country. Like all of us, they are gutted by what they saw on Monday, but the hundreds of messages I received from parents, students, and alumni this past 20 hours or so said one thing—keep on keeping on. And we will.

 

The Big Read: An assault on transformation (Times Live kolom deur Prof Jonathan Jansen: 25 Februarie 2016)

 

 

 


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