Professor Jonathan Jansen was one of South Africa's first black Deans

Professor Jonathan Jansen was one of South Africa’s first black Deans

Professor Jonathan Jansen knows more than anyone how hatred and conflict can lead to the complete destruction and colonisation of a country.

He grew up during the apartheid era when a young black man from South Africa had no prospects and was very likely to end up in prison during the white minority rule.

But that was not to be his fate. His long and colourful teaching career has seen him teaching biology in high school classrooms to leading one of South Africa’s premier learning institutions.

He is the former rector of the previously all-white educational institution in Bloemfontein, South Africa and the first black Dean of education at the University of the Free State.

Raised in the violent and impoverished city of Cape Town, Jansen has carved out a different career path for himself which he mainly attributes to the spiritual and moral values of his parents.

And now as one of the country’s leading voices in education, he had a powerful message to deliver to the graduating class at the University of the Free State.

He told his students to forget about violence and revenge and look towards a brighter, more forgiving future.

Looking into the eyes of his students, he said: “I urge you, in a country where there’s still a lot of rage, never respond by rage, respond through reason and you will have gotten not just a degree, but an education.”

Mr Jansen is also an author, newspaper columnist and the president of the South African Institute of Race Relations.

He said: “The way out of poverty is through learning and those basic values I have carried with me throughout my leadership.”

But like many areas of South Africa, the university is not completely free of racial tension.

In 2008, a video of four white students egging on at least five black housekeepers to eat urine-soaked stew hit headlines across the world. They were later fined by a court.

This only served to further the racial divides that are not just present at the university but throughout the country.

Jansen, attempted to offer the male students involved in the incident a chance to apologise publicly and return to the campus. They flat out refused and failed to show any remorse whatsoever.

However, despite the hateful and uncooperative nature of some of those he has encountered, Jansen still believes that the way forward is peace and unity.

He said: “If in the process of forgiving and reconciling, we enable other transformations to take place, which is exactly what happened, then that is a better way to go than the thirst – the understandable thirst let me say — for vengeance

“I don’t care what else you’ve learned at the University of the Free State. But you know this is a university that in the world is regarded as a place that chooses reconciliation over revenge, that chooses compassion over striking back, that chooses mercy over retaliation.”

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