Book maps change

People who work to reconcile communities to bring about a desirable change and transformation, need to do more than get people to sit and talk.

This is the view of Dr Rudi Buys, writer of the book Brugbouers – Die Reitz-video en die pad na versoening(“Bridge builders – The Reitz video and the road to reconciliation”).

The book was launched on Wednesday, 8 August, at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) campus in Bloemfontein.

Buys is the former UFS dean of Student Affairs.

The book zooms into the infamous Reitz video filmed by four male students who attended the UFS in 2007.

The four filmed an initiation of five black staff members into hostel activities.

The employees, four women and a man, were seen on their hands and knees eating food which had apparently been urinated into by a white student.

Buys stated that people who work to reconcile communities need to do more to achieve meaningful change and transformation.

Getting people to sit and talk to bring meaningful change is not enough.

“They need to go on and make something work afterwards. Challenging peace, bringing people together. Bridge-builders drive a process that challenges peace,” said Buys.

The degrading treatment of the workers, recorded on video, led to racial conflicts at the UFS and condemnation worldwide.

At the time, Buys was approached as a reconciliation consultant and later became the dean of Student Affairs.

The book tells the stories of four student leaders during the turbulent time that followed.

Buys said he added his own story to these, explaining what his process was as an Afrikaner who was challenged by the events.

“It is my picture and what I experienced while I was part of the UFS and the process at the time.”

He said the book was not an analysis of what happened.

Buys said one of the things that stood out from the experiences of the student leaders was that their internal struggles with issues of racism were more similar than different.

“The world would have us believe that it is something different,” said Buys.

Taking part in the discussion, Prof. Francis Petersen, UFS rector and vice-chancellor, indicated that the team who led the earlier process of transformation and integration had done excellent work.

However, he warned that nobody should have the illusion that it was enough.

He said in a society where issues were profoundly entrenched, change would not come in one generation.

Petersen said initiatives such as the constant debates, dialogues and conversations at student level and the current Thought Leadership Series were essential.

“More of these engagements should happen,” Petersen said.