The seven year itch, but Jansen will re­turn to SA

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - RY­LAND FISHER

WHEN Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Jansen an­nounced he was step­ping down as vice-chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of the Free State (UFS) less than half­way into his sec­ond five-year term, it caught many by sur­prise. He is leav­ing next month, af­ter tak­ing of­fice fewer than seven years ago.

But Jansen in­sisted in an in­ter­view this week his se­nior col­leagues and the univer­sity’s coun­cil were not sur­prised be­cause they knew from the be­gin­ning he was only there for seven years.

“I be­lieve that you have seven years in which to im­pact on the or­gan­i­sa­tion and if you have not made a ma­jor im­pact by that time, you never will. For me it is a won­der­ful time to make some ma­jor changes, con­sol­i­date a new team, do some suc­ces­sion plan­ning, and then to move on.

“The seven years have been won­der­ful, I re­ally en­joyed it, but it is enough,” Jansen said.

Jansen will be un­der­tak­ing a year-long sab­bat­i­cal as a re­search fel­low at the Cen­tre for Ad­vanced Stud­ies at Stan­ford Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia. He said it would pro­vide him with an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on the best way he could con­trib­ute to South Africa.

“I will never be able to turn my back on South Africa. There is too much hap­pen­ing here and there are too many peo­ple who I sup­port. It would be the wrong mes­sage to leave the coun­try per­ma­nently when I have al­ways been op­ti­mistic, even in our dark hours, that we can still change this coun­try.”

Jansen said one of the high­lights of his stint at the UFS was to “wit­ness qual­i­ta­tive change in the re­la­tion­ships be­tween stu­dents in gen­eral but black and white stu­dents in par­tic­u­lar”.

“I came here im­me­di­ately af­ter the hor­ri­ble Reitz in­ci­dent (where a group of white stu­dents de­graded and hu­mil­i­ated work­ers) and I have been as­tounded. I al­ways knew

that young peo­ple have the ca­pac­ity for love and for reach­ing out, but to be able to see that one a daily ba­sis, has been an ab­so­lute plea­sure. I am so op­ti­mistic about this coun­try’s fu­ture be­cause of young peo­ple.

“The other high­light for me has been to see the aca­demic stand­ing of the univer­sity im­prov­ing. A few years ago our pass rate was 62 per­cent, this year it was 82 per­cent. This hap­pened be­cause of a con­certed ef­fort by my col­leagues. There is still a lot of work to do, but for the first time we have A-rated pro­fes­sors, our re­search in­come has gone up­wards and we have more donors, in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal, than we have had in our his­tory.”

Jansen said there had been some low­lights, no­tably the re­cent Shimla Park rugby in­ci­dent when black and white stu­dents clashed af­ter a protest.

“The low­lights are few but when they hap­pen, they are soulde­stroy­ing. You say to your­self, we have worked so hard and ask your­self what else you still need to do.”

“Even with the Shimla Park in­ci­dent, once the le­gal things have run their course, we will also start look­ing for a restora­tive jus­tice process that will bring peo­ple to­gether. There is a limit to what the law can do in terms of pe­nal­is­ing peo­ple and then our hu­man­ity kicks in.

“By the way, this is not the Univer­sity of the Free State. This is what Madiba preached. It is the story of South Africa. It is not unique that in the face of great pain, we still find it pos­si­ble to for­give.”

Jansen is wor­ried about the state of ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa, say­ing “we are in se­ri­ous trou­ble”.

“Let’s talk about schools first: the fact is that our schools do not work for 80 per­cent of the kids and un­til gov­ern­ment re­alises this, we are go­ing to con­tinue to have a twotiered sys­tem. On the road from Cape Town to Muizen­berg, I can show you some of the best schools in the world. Within 10 min­utes I can take you to some of the worst schools on the con­ti­nent of Africa and they are in the ma­jor­ity, in Khayelit­sha, Ma­nen­berg and Nyanga.

“How did we al­low this to hap­pen? The rea­son we are com­fort­able is be­cause our chil­dren, mid­dle-class chil­dren, are in the schools that work.

“No­body is pay­ing at­ten­tion to the fact with ev­ery cy­cle of the school year, you are dump­ing thou­sands and thou­sands more poor black youth into job­less­ness, into des­per­a­tion, into frus­tra­tion and then we are sur­prised when they re­volt. It will not take a lot of money to make schools work again. It will just take a fo­cused de­ter­mi­na­tion and an hon­esty that says that we are in trou­ble.

“The pri­mary prob­lem is not money, the pri­mary prob­lem is lead­er­ship at a gov­ern­ment level. You can’t plug the leak ev­ery time there is a protest. You have to fix the ori­gins of this prob­lem.

“The rea­son I work in African and South African uni­ver­si­ties is be­cause I be­lieve that Africa must have lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties, just like any­where else in the world but, boy, are we mess­ing it up big time.”

While be­ing crit­i­cal of gov­ern­ment, Jansen said he would never con­sider a ca­reer in pol­i­tics.

“Some of us are not cut out to be politi­cians.In my DNA, as a univer­sity per­son, is a very strong sense of in­de­pen­dence. I’d like to think for my­self. If I get things wrong, that’s also what I en­joy. I of­ten make break­throughs in my work be­cause I get things wrong all the time.”

Jansen be­lieves that “postMadiba, peo­ple started to re­alise that the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem was rigged in favour of the elite”.

“Can you imag­ine, more than 21 years into our democ­racy and you are still sit­ting with­out a house and clean run­ning wa­ter, and your kid is still in a mis­er­able school? So when peo­ple burn tyres it is about the frus­tra­tion that the hope we had has turned out to be a pipe dream.

“The rea­son we got there is purely lead­er­ship. There is not a day that goes by in this coun­try where there is not an­other politi­cian in the head­lines for cor­rup­tion and ten­ders that are rigged for cor­rup­tion.

“Our first set of prob­lems is that our po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship works for them­selves and the elites in our coun­try. The sec­ond thing, that re­ally got us into trou­ble, is that we de­face our own in­sti­tu­tions.

“When the pres­i­dent re­fuses to pay back the money that is not the ma­jor flaw. The ma­jor flaw is im­punity in the face of a ma­jor in­sti­tu­tion called the pub­lic pro­tec­tor. “If one looks at the SABC right now, there is im­punity. He (Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng) is ba­si­cally show­ing his long fin­ger to the pub­lic and to the courts.

“The third is greed. Do you re­mem­ber who the last pres­i­dent was who gave part of his salary back? It was Madiba. Ever since we are in it for our­selves.

‘For me it is a

“At the end of the day, we have lost a value sys­tem that puts peo­ple at the cen­tre of pol­i­tics. We lost it when it be­came about us rather than about the peo­ple.”

Jansen said while Madiba was no longer around, the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship could sort out the prob­lems in South Africa.

“First of all, they need to re­alise that it goes be­yond Par­lia­ment. I would like to see all these po­lit­i­cal lead­ers get to­gether and say, ‘Can we start again? Our coun­try is in se­ri­ous trou­ble.’ You can’t do this on a party po­lit­i­cal ba­sis.

“Let’s ask our­selves, ‘What is the legacy of Madiba? What did we learn from him?’ He is not here any­more but he left us an enor­mous legacy, a value sys­tem, a per­spec­tive on pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics. If we do not, we are go­ing to con­tinue to blame each other, to con­tinue to po­si­tion our­selves for ad­van­tage in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, we are go­ing to con­tinue to make raids on the Trea­sury, and then we suf­fer.

“Here’s the good news. Ev­ery prob­lem that we have can be solved but you have to do it with lead­er­ship. Not only gov­ern­men­tal lead­er­ship: re­li­gious, ed­u­ca­tional, cor­po­rate, do­mes­tic lead­er­ship, in your home.”

“If the cur­rent lead­er­ship can’t do it, we have to pro­duce bet­ter lead­ers for to­mor­row and that is part of the role of uni­ver­si­ties.”

Fisher, a for­mer ed­i­tor of the Cape Times, is on the coun­cil of the UFS but con­ducted this in­ter­view as an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist.

PIC­TURE: CARA VIERECKL

Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Jansen be­lieves his ten­ure at Free State was pro­duc­tive.

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