Visionary and courageous

2009-11-03 09:50

REAL leaders with vision, energy and

commitment are extremely rare in all societies. When they do appear, they should

be treasured.

Jonathan Jansen is such a leader. The Free State University

vice-chancellor is a brave, imaginative and dedicated leader in the field where

we need leaders most; education. And how do we treasure him? We call him a

racist, an Uncle Tom and a traitor and we demand that he be shot and killed.

That is how far we have sunk in this society.

But what did we expect? During the past year or so the most senior

leaders of the ruling party launched unprecedented attacks on the judiciary and

indeed the judges of the highest court in the land. The leader of the ANC Youth

League publicly threatened to kill those who opposed the leader of his faction

of the ANC.

The same man later called the leader of the official opposition,

someone 30 years his senior with a strong anti-apartheid reputation, an “ugly,

racist little girl” and endorsed his colleagues’ statement that she was having

sex with all her cabinet ministers. Umkhonto weSizwe veterans threatened to make

the Western Cape ungovernable through the use of force because they didn’t like

the new provincial government; they recently told a struggle veteran and former

cabinet minister to “find a grave and die”.

Judges and sports administrators made racist utterances with

impunity. In the rare case where these aberrations were publicly condemned by

the ANC leadership the ­condemnations were so faint they sounded more like

camouflaged praise.

Add to this weekly reports of the theft of tens of millions of

rands by top officials and ruling party functionaries; a circus of a court case

where the close friendship between a former commissioner of police and a top

gangster plays itself out like a cheap soapie; cabinet ministers spending

millions on super-luxury cars and hotel accommodation while townships and

squatter camps burn; and the tragic truth becomes crystal clear – morally

speaking, South Africa has become a failed state.

The public lynching of Professor Jansen this past week was a

sickening sight. In a devastating indictment of his political opportunism and

utter lack of leadership, the crisis was not defused by the man in charge of

higher education, Blade Nzimande, but by a rabble-rouser and cheap populist with

a strong anti-intellectual bent – ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.

That is the state of our nation: the one to give leadership and

bring sanity when madness reigns is not the president or the cabinet or the

leaders in the education department, but Malema. The man who threatens political

killings, makes jokes about rape victims and says stupid things like

“hermaphroditism cannot exist because there is no word for it in Pedi”, suddenly

stands out as the paragon of virtue and vision.

Jansen is not a political Johnny-come-lately. He must have known

that his proposal to rehabilitate the four racist students who made the horrible

video humiliating five black workers would be a controversial one. He must have

known that the easiest way out would have been to do nothing; to just let the

criminal case against the students continue and their expulsion from the

university remain. He has been dealing with racism in education for years now;

he knows how raw and emotional an issue it is.

But that’s what makes him a

leader: he really wanted to change the racial impasse on the campus and had the

courage to risk a new initiative. He is right when he says the criminal case

against the Reitz Four won’t do anything to resolve the problem, and he is right

when he says it is more an institutional problem than a private pathology.

I am

a Free Stater and know the politics of the campus fairly well. The racial groups

are light years away from each other and the relationship is dominated by fear,

suspicion and loathing. I have no doubt that Jansen is the best, if not the

only, hope to bring harmony and proper transformation to the university.

Criminal prosecutions or forced integration alone won’t do the job.

The newspapers did not help with their skewed and emotive reporting

that left the impression among black students at the campus that the Reitz Four

would just be forgiven and welcomed back with no consequences. The trade union

Nehawu didn’t help either by playing politics in the name of protecting the

victims – they prevented the four from offering a proper apology in person and

even prevented Jansen from properly consulting the victims.

Malema is not my favourite politician, but he was the only ANC

politician who acted responsibly this week. His and Jansen’s idea that all

groups and races on campus should come forward in a Truth and Reconciliation

Commission-type exercise and talk about their experiences, fears and

­resentments is a good one.

Maybe they will teach the rest of us how to make peace, communicate

and live together. But then all of us need to support and trust Jansen and

others like him.

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