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June 6, 2013

Justice and equality on South African campus

Looking to return to tournament play, recruits should fit right in


By Alexandra Murray

The South African Constitution guarantees human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. Dr. Jonathan Jansen discussed how those founding ideas and principles are being furthered on the campus of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein during “Achieving Justice through Reconciliation on a South African University Campus.”

The lecture, held on May 28 and sponsored by the Roslyn Z. Wolf Endowed Chair in Urban School Leadership, was part of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Speaker Series.
Dr. Jansen has served as vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein South Africa since 2009. An honorary professor of education at the University of the Witwatersrand, Jansen has received an honorary doctorate in education from Cleveland State University and is a former Fulbright Scholar to Stanford University (2007-2008) and was dean of education at the University of Pretoria (2001-2007).

During the lecture he shared a controversy that occurred on the campus of the UFS. When four white South African students mistreated three black South African workers, the university wanted to expel them and take away their rights to obtain an education as punishment.

Dr. Jonathan Jansen“I won’t let them do this over my dead body,” Jansen said. “I refuse to let them take away these individuals’ rights to an education.”
He believed that even though the act of hatred the students committed was wrong, if it were handled in that manner they would not learn anything – only acquire more hate instead.

Despite his efforts to keep the boys from being expelled, they were expelled from the school.

“I remember one day the father of one of the boys came in and started crying, asking why this had happened to his son who was just making a joke which caused no harm,” Jansen said. “I remind you, he had to be one of the richest men in South Africa.”
Eventually the four young boys and the three workers settled out of court, and the workers were compensated for the damage done.

He continued by saying that, in South Africa, not only are fathers a main factor in segregation but mothers as well. For instance, he recalled a moment where a mother of one of the white South African children came up, embraced him and said “even though I am racist I appreciate what you have done for my daughter.”

As the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding” – the program was truly changing the students, as Jansen watched both white and black South African students interact, bond and grow together.

But one cannot ignore the past of Apartheid in South Africa, literally the “status of being apart,” which was enforced through legislation by the ruling National Party government from 1948 to 1994. The roots of racial segregation in South Africa stretch back to colonial times under the rule of the Dutch and the British, who forced blacks and whites in South Africa to live and attend different schools sanctioned by race.

In February of 1990 Apartheid came to an end. President FW de Klerk announced Nelson Mandela’s release and began the slow dismantling of the Apartheid system.

Taking into account the burden placed on both races by the South African government, one can take a moment to share the bittersweet victory. The University of the Free State overcame what many schools today strive to, and that is “separation” – something very difficult to erase from the minds of teenagers and adolescents who create social limitations in order to protect themselves.

Since 2010 Cleveland State has been a charter partner university with the UFS and hosted six students as part of the Leadership for Change initiative. Two years later six Cleveland State students joined more than 200 global delegates at the UFS when the Global Leadership Summit was held there. The program’s goals are to introduce South African students to positive models of racial integration, share ideas with American undergraduate students and develop academic and research networks on the themes of race, reconciliation and social justice.