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07 May 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Noko Masalesa
Noko Masalesa, Director of Protection Services, in conversation with students and stakeholders to plan a safe way forward.

Safety and security are human rights that constitute social justice. At the centre of the agenda at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Social Justice Week held on the Bloemfontein Campus from 17-22 April 2019 were discussions about off-campus safety. Stakeholders agreed on an upgrade to security measures in order to ensure the success and wellbeing of the student population.

A call to students

Prof John Mubangizi, Dean of the Faculty of Law, in his capacity as representative of the UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, expressed his view on institutions of higher learning no longer functioning as ivory towers. “For any initiative to succeed, collaboration is necessary between key roleplayers,” he said.

He aptly pointed out that: “We cannot underscore the importance of safety and security, not only for the university but also for the communities around us. What the university does benefits the community and vice versa. I pledge the university’s commitment to play a leading part to ensure that the collaboration works,” said Prof Mubangizi.

Beefing up security: Who is involved?

In view of the collaborative effort Prof Mubangizi alluded to, the engagement was twofold. First was the roundtable discussion facilitated by Protection Services which then escalated into a public dialogue where students had the opportunity to interact with external delegates.

The South African Police Services, Community Police Forum, Private Security, Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, Provincial Commissioner, and Deputy Minister of Police were well represented in this critical conversation. Internally, members of Protection Services, Housing and Residence Affairs, Student Affairs, Institute for Social Justice and Reconciliation, Student Representative Council, and the Department of Criminology heard the plight of off-campus safety faced by students.

Changes in the horizon

The discussions culminated with recommendations which will see the future of student safety take a different direction. According to Skhululekile Luwaca, former SRC president, these include “the municipality’s commitment to immediately address issues such as street lights and enforcing by-laws, ensuring an integrated accreditation system, and drafting a policy for off-campus accommodation, running more crime awareness campaigns, and giving police patrols more visibility.”

In addition to resolving to set up a student safety forum with all the stakeholders, the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has invited the UFS to join Reclaim the City – a safety forum where practical solutions to crime are devised and implemented on a weekly basis.


News Archive

“To forgive is not an obligation. It’s a choice.” – Prof Minow during Reconciliation Lecture
2014-03-05

“To forgive is not an obligation. It’s a choice.” – Prof Minow during the Third Annual Reconciliation Lecture entitled Forgiveness, Law and Justice.
Photo: Johan Roux

No one could have anticipated the atmosphere in which Prof Martha Minow would visit the Bloemfontein Campus. And no one could have predicted how apt the timing of her message would be. As this formidable Dean of Harvard University’s Law School stepped behind the podium, a latent tension edged through the crowded audience.

“The issue of getting along after conflict is urgent.”

With these few words, Prof Minow exposed the essence of not only her lecture, but also the central concern of the entire university community.

As an expert on issues surrounding racial justice, Prof Minow has worked across the globe in post-conflict societies. How can we prevent atrocities from happening? she asked. Her answer was an honest, “I don’t know.” What she is certain of, on the other hand, is that the usual practice of either silence or retribution does not work. “I think that silence produces rage – understandably – and retribution produces the cycle of violence. Rather than ignoring what happens, rather than retribution, it would be good to reach for something more.” This is where reconciliation comes in.

Prof Minow put forward the idea that forgiveness should accompany reconciliation efforts. She defined forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to forego rightful grounds of resentment towards those who have committed a wrong. “To forgive then, in this definition, is not an obligation. It’s a choice. And it’s held by the one who was harmed,” she explained.

Letting go of resentment cannot be forced – not even by the law. What the law can do, though, is either to encourage or discourage forgiveness. Prof Minow showed how the law can construct adversarial processes that render forgiveness less likely, when indeed its intention was the opposite. “Or, law can give people chances to meet together in spaces where they may apologise and they may forgive,” she continued. This point introduced some surprising revelations about our Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Indeed, studies do report ambivalence, disappointment and mixed views about the TRC. Whatever our views are on its success, Prof Minow reported that people across the world wonder how South African did it. “It may not work entirely inside the country; outside the country it’s had a huge effect. It’s a touchstone for transitional justice.”

The TRC “seems to have coincided with, and maybe contributed to, the relatively peaceful political transition to democracy that is, frankly, an absolute miracle.” What came as a surprise to many is this: the fact that the TRC has affected transitional justice efforts in forty jurisdictions, including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Liberia. It has even inspired the creation of a TRC in Greensborough, North Carolina, in the United States.

There are no blueprints for solving conflict, though. “But the possibility of something other than criminal trials, something other than war, something other than silence – that’s why the TRC, I think, has been such an exemplar to the world,” she commended.

Court decision cannot rebuild a society, though. Only individuals can forgive. Only individuals can start with purposeful, daily decisions to forgive and forge a common future. Forgiveness is rather like kindness, she suggested. It’s a resource without limits. It’s not scarce like water or money. It’s within our reach. But if it’s forced, it’s not forgiveness.

“It is good,” Prof Minow warned, “to be cautious about the use of law to deliberately shape or manipulate the feelings of any individual. But it is no less important to admit that law does affect human beings, not just in its results, but in its process.” And then we must take responsibility for how we use that law.

“A government can judge, but only people can forgive.” As Prof Minow’s words lingered, the air suddenly seemed a bit more buoyant.

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