An Open Letter to Professor Jonathan Jansen
26 May 2016
I was very saddened to hear that you have resigned as Vice Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State. I found it very hard to swallow. Because I believe you are the man South Africa’s troubled world of academia needs. In fact, it’s not only academia that needs you, I believe the whole South Africa needs you.
We face serious challenges at the moment – unemployment is stubbornly high, especially amongst the youth, poverty, corruption, the failing education system, politicians flout the rule of law, Marxist movements torch our university campuses, racism is alive, crime, and a moribund economy mismanaged by desperate politicians. These are the obstacles impeding our economic growth, and the great minds like you are the people we run to for solutions to overcome these challenges.
I have to be frank, in times of hopelessness about the state of our nation, I always run to The Times newspaper to look for your weekly column so I read your opinions. That’s not to say I always agree with you, but most of what you write always makes me think. And I’m sure there are millions of South Africans who would say the same thing.
Because of my affiliation to the South African Institute of Race Relations, where I’m a member of the council and policy fellow, I was honoured to host the launch of your new book titled Leading For Change: Race, Intimacy and Leadership on Divided University Campuseson the 9th of May. And to reiterate what I said at the event, as a South African young person, your opinions have shaped the way I think about this beautiful country and life in general.
In listening to your conversation with Ferial Haffajee at the launch, I got a sense that you are an optimist, that you do believe South Africa can mend its race relations. And you were honest that this very important process will take a long time to produce a racially peaceful nation.
Professor, I’m a classical liberal, which means I believe in maximum individual liberty and economic freedom. A very important ingredient in preserving peoples’ liberties, is limited government – which is the reason why I become frustrated by government’s ever-rising taxes, highly-regulated labour market, and the regulations that stifle business growth. I believe government should also be blamed for South Africa’s shockingly high unemployment.
When I asked you whether you thought government was also to blame for South Africa’s slow pace of transformation and racial harmony, you passionately said that you believe it is we the people who can make a meaningful change to our country. I was very happy to hear you say this because millions of South Africans sadly believe it’s the state that will solve all the problems we face.
I cannot imagine the hard work you had to go through in your efforts to transform the University of the Free State. Being the first black Vice Chancellor in that environment must have been difficult. And I believe you did all you could to steer that university in the right direction. I’m certain that students you worked with will miss you.
You are resigning and migrating to the United States at a very critical time in our country – where universities have become hotbeds of chaos, and the occasional xenophobic attacks continue to stain the image of our nation. I just hope that even when you are in the United States you’ll continue writing about South Africa and that your doors will be open for us to seek advice.
As a classical liberal, very few South African intellectuals have had a huge positive impact on my life, very few. For one main reason, it’s hard to find people who believe in personal liberty and economic freedom in this country, but very easy to find people who strongly believe in socialist dogma – which is of course very sad.
You are amongst these very few South Africans who inspire me as a young writer on matters of politics and economics. Not because you are a classical liberal or libertarian; in fact I do not know which philosophy guides you in your intellectual work. But here’s what I sure know: You do believe that it’s we the people who can make South Africa a prosperous and educated nation, not politicians. And that alone, from a man of your stature, in South Africa, encourages me to soldier on in my efforts to advance liberty and economic freedom.
Professor, I won’t ask you to stay, you have chosen another path – one I believe will continue to grow you as one of the respected academics around the world. You have done a great job. I just hope you’ll remain a participant in South Africa’s public debate.
As great minds like you leave, we are left with the likes of Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma. Which means South Africa’s long road ahead is bumpy. Tough.
Phumlani M. Majozi
Phumlani M. UMajozi is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.