The Faculty of Engineering is celebrating its 75thyear of existence in 2019. At a Gala Dinner on 29 March to commemorate this exceptional milestone, the Faculty will be honoured to welcome Mrs Blanca Malherbe, daughter of the first Dean of the Faculty, Prof Harry Reitz.
When Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns raised the need for an Afrikaans Faculty of Engineering in the mid-nineteen-thirties, experts from outside Stellenbosch was consulted and Mr HL (Harry) Reitz was co-opted to gather information. He did extensive research. Many stumbling blocks and the event of the Second World War delayed the establishment of the Faculty of Engineering. In 1941 a Department of Engineering was established under the Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Science and Mr Reitz was appointed as the first professor in this field of study and the course started with three second-year students and 42 first-years.
On 14 June 1942 the long-entertained dream became a reality when the Governor General approved the establishment of the Faculty of Engineering. From January 1944 the first Dean, Prof Reitz, and his core team started offering a five-year BScEng degree course in Civil, Mechanical or Electrotechnical Engineering.
Mrs Malherbe, who recently turned 88, shared some of her memories about her father, and the time he served as Dean.
She says: “My father was the 7thson of President FW Reitz and his second wife Cornelia Mulder. His full name was Henry Loch Reitz. He was named after Sir Henry Loch (the British Governor in the Cape Colony) who was a great friend of my grandfather.
“My father studied Civil Engineering, Land Surveying and Architecture in Delft, Holland. His first appointment as a qualified engineer was as the city engineer of Knysna where he designed and built the sewerage treatment plant. He did a lot of consulting work and I often accompanied him on his trips to Ceres and Franschhoek where he was responsible for the design of a City Hall and municipal works.
“During long summer vacations, he did the planning of Hangklip Beach Estates. This task spanned over several vacations, but it was wonderful to spend time at the beach as my father was a very keen angler. As payment for his hard work, he could choose three plots on the estate, but alas, we could never utilise it as we could not afford to build a house there.
“When I think of my father, I see him lying under the old Plymouth over weekends. He could never afford another vehicle and had to keep that one going!”
Mrs Malherbe was a young student when her father was Dean of Engineering. She continues: “Whilst studying at Stellenbosch University, I often spent time in his office between my classes. I can remember vividly how the students called him ‘Pappa’. My father suffered from ill health and died in 1948 at the age of 57 from a heart attack.”
Among the many former lecturers who have made a great contribution, Prof Harry Reitz stands out as first Dean and a pioneer in the creation and early establishment of the Faculty.
The well-known Reitz Hall in the General Engineering building, named after him, was upgraded a few years ago and is now a modern facility which is utilised extensively. The fact that over the past almost 50 years Matie Engineering students kicked off their academic career with lectures in the Reitz Hall is indeed a wonderful tribute to the Faculty’s first and beloved Dean, Prof Harry Reitz.
Mrs Blanca Malherbe, daughter of the first Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Prof Harry Reitz. Behind Mrs Malherbe, next to the telephone, is a photograph of her father.