'I am at peace'

2009-10-28 00:00

I HAD a discussion with the next generation of student leaders on the subject of cultural leader­ship. It became clear to me that the future of education and the community in our beloved country will depend on a different kind of leadership from the kind we have today­.

Fortunately, we do sometimes produce such countercultural leaders in South Africa, but they are somewhat scarce.

Theirs is the leadership of advocate Bram Fischer, who not only worked for the freedom of all South Africans, but also protested against the sentiment of his people while fully realising that at best he would be rejected and at worst he would be persecuted.

Fischer would eventually be released­ from prison, to die tragically and alone.

His life convinced a generation of black activists to accept that a nonracial struggle was possible after all.

Theirs is the leadership of former president Nelson Man­dela, who would surely have been warned by some of his comrades not to go ahead with his decision to wear a Springbok rugby jersey at the Rugby World Cup final at Ellis­ Park in 1995. Mandela was, after all, a boxer, not a rugby enthusiast­.

This open association with what was regarded as an Afrikaner­-nationalistic pursuit held risks in those early days of transformation.

Mandela almost certainly convinced a generation of white South Africans that reconciliation with the other side is possible, despite the pain and tragedy of apartheid.

Conventional leadership honours only the tribe; counter­cultural leadership embraces all of humanity.

Conventional leadership seeks acceptance and honour for self; countercultural leadership runs the risk of personal isolation and attack.

Conventional leadership is opportunistic and can choose any side that promotes self-interest; countercultural leadership is principled and stands for what is right, regardless of the consequences.

Conventional leadership seeks short-term gain; countercultural leadership seeks long-term transformation.

Unfortunately there has been a lack of countercultural leadership in our country since the days of Mandela.

A man can lie openly in public leadership office and still retain his post as the president of Athletics South Africa.

A man can squander public money on the most expensive hotels in the country and still see no reason why he should resign as a minister.

A man can fail miserably in every­ match as coach of the nat­ional soccer team and still retain his post in the run-up to the International Federation of Association Football (Fifa) Soccer World Cup tournament in 2010.

A school principal can molest children and retain his post — until there is public opposition.

In the past few days I have been subjected to a torrent of criticism from some English-speaking news media, as well as from certain black political quarters, for trying to effect reconciliation in the case of the four students of the University of the Free State’s Reitz men’s residence and their controversial video recording that caused such a sensation last year.

I am totally at peace about the decision, because it is the right thing to do.

The decision has little to do with the four students, and everything to do with a country that is still deeply divided across racial barriers and still deeply wounded by our past.

It is a decision that acknowledges the institution’s role in creating conditions in which such racial actions­ can take place.

The decision is also about social­ justice; hence the commitment to compensation in the case of the abused personnel and the public acknowledgement of institutional liability.

I can do that only because of the inspiration of the Fischers and the Mandelas. It is easy for me, because the worst that can happen is that I can be fired. In the case of these other two countercultural leaders, it cost them their lives.

• Jonathan Jansen has been rec­ently installed as principal of the University of the Free State.

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