Tutu salutes Jonathan Jansen for inaugural lecture

Archbishop Emeritus commends UFS rector for forgiving the Reitz Four


19 October 2009

Dear Professor Jansen,

I write to salute you warmly for your outstanding and courageous Braam Fisher Lecture on the occasion last week of your induction as Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (see here).

I want to commend you especially for your magnanimous gesture in forgiving the four students responsible for the disgusting racial episode caught on camera at the Reitz student hostel in 2007, and allowing them to return to the university to complete their studies if they so wish.

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.

I, on the contrary, salute you, for you have done us proud!

Revenge and retribution are easy, being the path of least resistance. Forgiveness is not for sissies. Our scriptures declare that it an attribute that makes us Godlike.

"Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful," is what Jesus bade his followers. St. Paul urged us to be, "tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you".

Had Madiba advocated retribution and revenge when he emerged from prison would he be revered today as a moral colossus bestriding our universe? Of course not. He is admired precisely because he advocated forgiveness not revenge, reconciliation not retribution.

Where would we be as a country had we chosen revenge and a policy of an eye for an eye rather than the process of the TRC? 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.

Mahatma Gandhi said: "Where the law of an eye for eye obtains, all the people will become blind."

Revenge is contrary to the spirit of ubuntu/botho. To forgive reflects the generosity of this ubuntu/botho. Thank you for being an embodiment of this spirit.

It is important to note that you have not ignored the plight of the victims of the disgraceful conduct at Reitz hostel, for you have pledged that the University will offer them reparations.

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.

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!

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

Desmond Tutu

Issued on behalf of the Office of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu by Oryx Media, October 19 2009

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