By Stefan Norogaard
On Tuesday, November 4, SIG cosponsored a lecture and discussion with Professor Jonathan Jansen, the vice chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Jansen is one of South Africa’s most well known public intellectuals and is known to drive important debates about race, reconciliation, and education in South African society. Jansen began his career as a schoolteacher and studied at Stanford on a Fulbright Scholarship in 2007-2008. Today he is also is the president of the South African Institute of Race Relations. He continues to write, research, and publish articles frequently.
Jansen began the event by discussing the “Reitz Incident,” in which male Afrikaner students at UFS filmed a video humiliating black janitorial workers in protest of the prospect of integrated residence halls on campus. The incident provoked an international debate about post-apartheid South Africa’s state of racial reconciliation, and a change in in curriculum and pedagogy on the UFS campus. The university then called on Jansen to serve as the school’s Rector (a term for “President” in South African higher education).
Since the Reitz Incident, Jansen has worked hard to transform race relations at UFS and in South Africa. He has instituted a common core that asks all first year students to grapple with bitter and recent apartheid memories. However, he acknowledges that his reforms have not always been well received: “We have made so much progress, but it is not a straight line, and there are always setbacks,” Jansen said.
Yet Jansen is optimistic for the future of UFS and for young South Africans. According to Jansen, his students emerge from UFS as fuller citizens, ready to serve as leaders in the new South Africa.
Jansen concluded the event by describing the recent results of the Student Representative Council (SRC) elections, a group similar to Stanford’s ASSU. Traditionally, Jansen noted, SRC parties are racially homogenous, and an all-white Afrikaner party often contends and performs well in elections. In this election, however, a black female SRC president joins a female white vice president who is blind. Jansen said he finally sees the process of transformation on the UFS campus, and that it excites him. Jansen concluded: “sometimes you must be blind… to see.”