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Kosmopolis Institute Publications Day 12: A two-coloured rainbow?

Day 12: A two-coloured rainbow?

Yesterday I wanted to give my friends and family back home an update on Facebook, but what to write, if one got too much to tell? After a few attempts I just wrote ‘what can I say? There happens so much…’ My dear sister responded: ‘You don't have to: Just experience!’ However, at the same time we are constantly pushed to reflect, to share our viewpoints, to express our feelings. I want to do this - I want to create some clarity in my mind instead of laying awake in the middle of the night. So, I felt the urge to write the blog today, although I'm having a hard time to articulate my experiences, thoughts and emotions properly.


Today we had two lectures: the morning session was provided by Andre Keet, the facilitator of our Winter School and the director of the International Institute on Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice. In the afternoon the Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), Jonathan Janssen, held a lecture about South Africa’s past. The latter argued that you cannot understand the present if one doesn’t care for the past. To quote: ‘All South Africans are more traumatized than you think. It is completely out of the ordinary.’


The booklet Andre Keet gave us there contains a letter from a Korean girl who studied for two years at the University of Stellenbosch. She questions the metaphor of the rainbow, out of her experiences where she is mocked because of her skin colour; ‘your rainbow either does not have the same colours as mine, or it consists of only one or two colours, or is even distorted.’ Andre Keet said ‘technically speaking the colors of the rainbow never cross, so maybe the metaphor is also a problem, although Tutu and Mandela probably won’t like this.’ Interesting thought! It's one that seems to came back constantly through this winter school. There is such a black-white discourse in this country, that reconciliation in my view becomes rather difficult. It seems that the language doesn't facilitate reconciliation, but works more towards division. This brings me to the fundamental question: is reconciliation in South Africa possible? Reconciliation is of course an beautiful ideal. There is nothing wrong with striving for it, but is it not to much to ask for?




Jonathan Janssen (tried to) showed us how the past still haunts us today. He poses us a rather complex dilemma, about two girls who apply for the very last position at the medical school of the UFS. The first girl is a Afrikaner (A white skinned woman with European roots). Her father is a doctor and her mother doesn't work, since she can afford it. They live in a nice suburb. The girl got nine distinctions (she only needs 6). She works voluntarily in an Aids-hospice one day a week, against the will of her parents who think that she unnecessarily risks her life. The other girl is black. She lives in a township and had a poor education. For one course she did not even have a qualified teacher, but she studied the topic herself - by candlelight, day and night. She received 3 distinctions. She applied only to the medical school of the University of the Free State, since she can't afford to leave the Free State and live at a campus elsewhere. The question to us, and now to you: Who should get in the medical school of the UFS?


I was surprised by their choice. No, not particularly their choice, but the reason behind it. They choose the black girl, because ‘one can't break the circle of poverty, with two unemployed parents. So, that is why we let her in’ and the former director of the institute, who was a minister of education in the Mandela administration, stated ‘it needs to be about fairness and justice, to put the past right, to put the inequality right. And in this line of thought there is no doubt in my mind that I would choose the black girl.’ I wonder: is this fair? Does positive discrimination only relocates the problem? Is positive discrimination beneficial for the process of reconciliation, or counterproductive?


Reconciliation is not something that is easy to realize in such a young country. The University of the Free State is a forerunner in this since the Reitz incident. The reconciliation on the campus is supposed to be achieved, according Jonatan Janssen. However, walking on the campus, black and white students don’t seem to interact extensively. So it seems that they are still divided, perhaps not in a struggle anymore, but more in an ignoring than interactive way. However, at the website of UFS a picture is drawn that this is a place where black and whites students, for example having animated conversations in the gardens. The UvH uses a similar mechanism, putting our dear Ugandan Jimmy on the website of the University of Humanistic Studies (The Netherlands). Why do we do this? Isn't the first step to true reconciliation acknowledging the situation, to see the flaws, to see reality? Reality seems to have a rather inclusive bias.


These are just my thoughts on one subject, but please believe me, that I could write so many more pages, for instance about the communication in a multicultural group, or whether or not their is such a thing as a Dutch identity. Or just how interaction develops, friendships emerges, the things we do in our -very little!- leisure time and so forth. But for now, I will just keep it by this, with one end note however: I enjoy this summer school so freaking much! It pushes me, it makes me aware, it makes me puzzle, it generates fun and foremost it introduced me to the more than interesting country South Africa.


Now up to Johannesburg and Pretoria for the weekend! And we will take the advice of Jonathan Janssen with us: "take it [the Apartheidmuseum, just as the Anglo-Boer War museum] with a pinch of ideological salt.”


Fleur Nollet