It’s time for Jansen to admit he erred

2009-10-24 13:44

ONE can almost imagine Professor Jonathan Jansen’s excitement as he prepared to deliver his inaugural lecture last Friday as the recently installed rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State.

After all, buried in his speech was the proverbial bombshell announcing the dropping of charges against the four students whose exposure in a video feeding residence staff a urine-laced concoction had sparked a national outcry.

In what he described as a blueprint to transform the university, Jansen “apologised” to the country for what Johnny Roberts, Danie Grobler, Schalk van der Merwe and RC Malherbe had done to Rebecca Adams, Laukaziemma Koko, Noom Phororo, Nitta Ntseng and David Molete at the Reitz residence in 2007.

However, in his view, “the deeper issues of racism and bigotry that conflict our university – and many others – will not be resolved in the courts”.

Jansen said: “In a gesture of racial reconciliation, and the need for healing, the University of the Free State will withdraw its own charges against the four students.”

He would invite the four to continue their studies at the university and the Reitz hostel would re-open as “a model of ­racial reconciliation”. As for the workers, they would be paid compensation, he said.

That must have struck a chord in the community to which the four students belonged. He was waving a white flag, reassuring them that they had nothing to fear that he, as the first black rector of “their” university, would not rock the boat too much.

In the furore that has followed his act, it has become evident that Jansen’s definition of “the university” is synonymous with “the rector”.

He has forgotten that he said in December last year that the university “has to bring academic staff, administrative staff, workers, students, as well as the parent community behind a compelling vision of transformation that works in the interest of all members of the university community”.

He took the decision to withdraw the charges without consulting all the stakeholders. Certainly the affected workers and black students have objected to Jansen’s act.

Worse, he seems to have completely disregarded the effect of his gesture on the five victims. They are on record as saying they were not consulted and that Jansen’s act is yet another blow to their human rights.

“This proves we are nothing,” one of them said.

Jansen should now admit that he jumped the gun and leave the matter to the courts. After all, the four students are due to go on trial tomorrow, charged with violating the workers’ dignity.

Admitting that he made a mistake and reinstating the complaint may undermine his ambitions to be accepted by the racist element at the university.

But it would be big of him.

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