Cape Town -
There’s social justice and there’s transformation - and while racial quotas may address the former, they’re not going to transform South Africa, said Professor Jonathan Jansen.
“Most of us don’t invest in that second part,” the University of the Free State vice-chancellor told students of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s business faculty on Friday. “Unless we do both, this country will be in serious trouble.”
Jansen said social justice had to with correcting the wrongs of the past, while transformation was about the future, a quantitative change versus a qualitative change.
“Returning land to black communities is social justice,” he said. “But changing the hearts and minds of white farmers so that they understand why this needs to be done, that’s transformation.
“Increasing the number of black people in upper management: that’s social justice. But transformation is making sure you have the right black people in those positions.”
And while race-based university quotas made sense in terms of social justice, they didn’t in terms of transformation.
“That’s not how you build social cohesion in a fractured country,” Jansen told the students. “These two trains are about to collide. You can’t in pursuing one objective undermine another.”
Race is a social construct, he said: “We can’t use apartheid categories to rebuild society. We have to find a different way of getting there.”
Jansen suggested quotas instead be based on socio-economic circumstances. It would still improve the racial demographics in universities because of the division of wealth in the country, but would help in moving away from race-based thinking.
He implored students to raise their children “normally”, surrounded by different races and cultures.
“Be very careful what you tell them. Live a life that shows you’re not ethnic or tribalist in your thinking… We need to inscribe on the imagination of our youth a different way of thinking about each other.”
Jansen described tribalist politics of the “our-time-to-rule” type as “moronic”.
“And if you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand how Rwanda happened. Then you don’t understand how Zimbabwe happened, or how the American South happened.”
When one audience member brought up the university’s pardoning of the Reitz Four - a group of four UFS students who, in 2007, filmed a group of cleaning staff undergoing a series of humiliating tasks - Jansen used it to illustrate his point.
“They appeared in criminal and civil courts - that was the social justice,” he explained. “Then, what is next? Do you leave four racists on the streets of the Free State to continue doing that? Or do you bring them in and work with them? We only allowed them back into the university after the workers forgave them and said, ‘Bring them back, they’re our children.’ That’s transformation.”