Apology in the name of justice



. I am inextricably part of the University of the Free State, and tonight I ask your forgiveness for what we have done. I apologise to every black person on this campus and in this province for our long history of exclusion and marginalisation of black people within this institution. I have spent many nights in tears regretting what we (yes, we) did to the five black workers of the University of the Free State. This institution begs your forgiveness.

I apologise to every decent white citizen of our university that you were shamed by the Reitz incident. I know too many of you have felt private guilt and racial remorse, as well, that we as an institution failed you. And I know that you took what the four students did personally, and that the relentless criticism of whites in the wake of Reitz, you absorbed as a commentary on the group.

Tonight, as the head of this institution, I apologise to you.

I apologise to the memory of Bram Fischer, the patriot who warned us that separate living would bring collective trauma. I apologise to Sheila Aronstam and Kalie Strydom, who long before it was fashionable, pushed the council of the university to transform this treasured institution when it was simply not ready to do so.

I apologise to my predecessors - professors François Retief, Stef Coetzee and Frederick Fourie - for in your own ways you asked for the transformation of Kovsies, sometimes at great personal cost to you and to your families.

I also feel compelled to say this to you tonight. Those four students who committed that heinous act are my students. If I may borrow from another leader, I cannot deny them, any more than I cannot deny my own children. The four Reitz students are children of this country, they are youth of the province, and they are students of our university. They are, I repeat, my students.

And so I have made some decisions.

l In a gesture of racial reconciliation, and the need for healing, the university will withdraw its own charges against the four students. The university will therefore not pursue any further action against the four young men implicated in the Reitz incident. In this spirit of toenadering, the university will go further, and invite those four students to continue their studies here.

l In recognition of our institutional complicity in the Reitz saga, and the need for social justice, the university of the Free State will not only pursue forgiveness but will also pay reparations to the workers concerned for damages to their dignity and their self-esteem.

l And, in a determined commitment to the urgent task of reconstruction, the University of the Free State will reopen the Reitz residence and transform it into a model of racial reconciliation and social justice for all students.