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South Africa praised for dealing with its history
2012-07-12

“I listened to an incredible conversation on how South Africans can talk about the past. We failed to do that in the US. We cannot move on because we failed to name the ghosts in our past. I am honouring what South Africa is doing.”

These are the words of a staff delegate from a university in the USA in a case study at the Global Leadership Summit led by Prof. André Keet, Director of the International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Students and academics from universities in the USA, Belgium, the Netherlands and Japan are attending a Global Leadership Summit with the theme “Transcending Boundaries in Global Change Leadership” at the UFS.

In the case study, symbols on the Bloemfontein Campus such as the MT Steyn Statue, Justitia symbol of justice at the building of the Faculty of Law, the artwork Van hier tot daar, and the Women’s Memorial were presented to the audience and the question was asked if they had to be removed or if they had to remain.

Students overwhelmingly felt that symbols of the past had to remain. Here are some of the comments:

  • “Without our past we would not be here today. Without the past, we would not know why we are here or where we are going.”
  • “It is important for students that it remains on campus, as a reminder that history must not repeat itself.”
  • “There is room for new symbols. We must look back but must also look at the future.”
  • “We must resolve the problems of the past and move on.”
  • “We must remember that we cannot go back there again. We must not take away part of other people’s history.”
  • “Symbols must be contextualised.”
  •  “Don’t look in the rear mirror, but through the windscreen where you are going. The windscreen is far bigger.”

One student said the statute of MT Steyn filled him with anger.

Prof. Keet said the act of running away from the ghosts of the past was a way to keep those ghosts alive. The past cannot be dealt with, only visited. The ghosts connect people with the past and allow the past to be present in the now.
 

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