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29 January 2019 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Anja Aucamp
Prof Francis Petersen speech
“We can create an institution that operates and lives in the times of embracing and celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and academic excellence by ensuring that students own their time at university,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

25 January 2019 marked the official welcoming of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) first-year students, as they moved into their respective residences and were warmly welcomed on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. This day also marked the start of the registration process for first-year students.

According to first-year Psychology student Keisha Claasen, who moved into her residence earlier on 25 January, her first experience of the UFS was daunting but exciting, as she had never been in a similar environment. According to Given Gwerera, who dropped his son off at the Karee residence earlier the day, “the UFS is an institution with great culture and an overall good academic record.” He further explained that he trusts his son to make full use of the opportunities presented to him, as he has a cool head on his shoulders.

On the evening of 25 January, an eager group of millennials, joined by their parents, took the first sip from their cup of varsity life as they assembled on the Red Square of the Bloemfontein Campus to meet the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, members of Rectorate, the deans of all faculties, and the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the UFS.

“2019 will be a year of continued change; the UFS is thrilled about the prospect of bringing about opportunities for adaptation and realignment to the future,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

He further explained that the university prides itself in moulding its students into well-rounded individuals who will develop into globally competitive graduates as required in a diversity of landscapes. Prof Petersen urged first-years to remain open to the technological developments that go with globalisation, because of its permanent effects on society today.

First-years were further advised to take advantage of the rich pool of academic research and knowledge that is characteristic of the university and is piloted by UFS scholars, by engaging with and learning from them.

The inspiring night concluded on a colourful note, as the audience enjoyed an artistic laser show in front of the Main Building. Caption:

“UFS academics conduct research that forces the world to take note,” said Prof Francis Petersen at the official first-year welcoming ceremony on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

News Archive

#Women’sMonth: Who am I? Questions of identity among Rwandan rape survivors
2017-08-03

 Description: Michelle Nöthling, Questions of identity among Rwandan rape survivors Tags: Michelle Nöthling, Questions of identity among Rwandan rape survivors 

Michelle Nöthling, master’s degree student
in the Centre for Trauma, Forgiveness, and
Reconciliation Studies at the UFS.
Photo: Eugene Seegers

From 7 April to 15 July 1994, a mass genocide swept through Rwanda after years of Belgian colonial rule that divided the country along ethnic lines. Rape was also used as part of a political strategy to torture and humiliate mainly Tutsi women, and as a means of spreading HIV.

Individual focus
Why is it important to listen to what these rape survivors have to say? Michelle Nöthling, a master’s student in the UFS Centre for Trauma, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation Studies, responds, “We speak of groups – refugees, foreigners, and the like – yet we tend to forget the individuals and the lasting impact trauma has had on each person.”

Narrative exploration
Michelle maintains that we are the product of the narratives around us; things like – how to be a woman, how to dress, speak, or treat others. Her research delves into how these rape survivors see themselves, how they narrate their lives. She also investigates power relations based on gender; for example, how language can be used as a divisive tool.

Rwandan backdrop
In Rwanda, gender roles are deeply entrenched. Traditionally, a ‘girl’ remains such while she is a virgin. Her transition into womanhood is usually marked by marriage and followed by motherhood. But rape disrupts this structure, leading to an identity crisis as these girls are catapulted into motherhood with an unplanned child resulting from a traumatic event.

“We are the product of
the narratives around us.”

Reaching their mid-teens, the children, too, started asking questions about identity or paternity. For those mothers who were finally able to open up to their children, the experience has been mostly liberating – often leading to a closer relationship between parent and child. Michelle intends to interrogate how such significant moments shape the way these women perceive themselves. Research tends to portray these survivors solely as mothers of rape-born children. Michelle, however, seeks to examine their identities more deeply.

“These survivors still bear the heavy burden of being marginalised, stigmatised, and severely humiliated. Despite this, they have developed their own communities of belonging; people with whom they connect, to whom they relate, and to whom they are not ashamed to tell their experiences,” she said.

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