Tutu backs Jansen over controversial Reitz decision

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Monday commended University of the Free State rector and vice-chancellor Dr Jonathan Jansen for withdrawing charges against four students behind a videotaped racist incident.

“Your magnanimity has aroused the ire of quite a few, who argue that it could encourage a repeat of such despicable conduct; and that the perpetrators should be dealt with firmly and not with a sentimental wishy-washiness,” said Tutu, describing the incident as “disgusting”.

“I, on the contrary, salute you, for you have done us proud,” he said in commending Jansen for forgiving the students and allowing them to return to complete their studies.

In 2007, the four students videotaped Reitz residence cleaners eating meat that had allegedly been urinated on.

In his inauguration address in Bloemfontein on Friday, Jansen reportedly apologised to the country for the actions of Johnny Roberts, Danie Grobler, Schalk van der Merwe and RC Malherbe.

However, he was quickly criticised for short-circuiting the judicial process.

Human Rights Commission of South Africa advocate Mothusi Lepheana said the body would still pursue its “precedent-setting” civil action against the university and the four students, and could serve the documents as soon as this week.

The African National Congress also rejected the decision, saying it would not lead to reconciliation, but would harden racial attitudes in both the university and the country.

“Dear professor. You are a great man. Count me among your admirers and supporters.
Free State has just experienced a wonderful weekend, thanks to you and the Cheetahs [Free State rugby team],” Tutu wrote in his open letter to Jansen on Monday.

“It is people like you who will make our beloved country the great land it can become. God bless you.

“I pray that the culprits and their families will have the decency to ask the forgiveness of their victims for the sake of their own spiritual health, for without forgiveness this incident will corrode their souls,” he said.

The four are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on October 26 to face charges of crimen injuria.

Tutu wrote that revenge and retribution were easy, being the path of least resistance, but that forgiveness was not for sissies. “Our scriptures declare it an attribute that makes us Godlike.”

Asking whether former president Nelson Mandela would be revered today had he advocated retribution and revenge when he emerged from prison, Tutu replied: “Of course not. He is admired precisely because he advocated forgiveness not revenge, reconciliation not retribution.”

Tutu also questioned where the country would be had it chosen revenge and a policy of an eye for an eye rather than the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Our beautiful land would have been reduced to dust and ashes. But instead of that fate, we were constantly left speechless by the amazing generosity of spirit of persons who by right should have been consumed by bitterness and a lust for revenge.”

Revenge went contrary to the spirit of ubuntu/botho. Forgiveness reflected the generosity of ubuntu/botho.

“Thank you for being an embodiment of this spirit,” he told Jansen, noting that in the university’s offering them reparations, the university had not ignored the plight of the victims.—Sapa

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