27 June 2011
Oprah Winfrey, speaking shortly after being awarded an honorary doctorate in education at the University of the Free State on Friday, applauded South Africans for their ability to forgive.
Winfrey addressed the audience of over 4 000 that had gathered to watch the graduation ceremony and took a few questions from students.
Making reference to the infamous Rietz residence videotape, which threatened to tear the university apart along racial lines, Winfrey praised the spirit of forgiveness demonstrated by the workers involved in the video.
She called them up to the stage, where she individually shook their hands for the role they played in mending tensions in a racially charged environment.
Winfrey said the demonstration of forgiveness is what drew her to the University of the Free State, and she wanted to come witness it for herself, saying it was “amazing” and “nothing short of a miracle.”
The former talk show host, famous for dishing out restorative advice, said the decision to forgive was beneficial for the person doing the forgiving as much as it was for the person on the receiving end of the forgiveness.
Winfrey also commended Vice-Chancellor Jonathan Jansen on being instrumental in the process of building racial harmony by facilitating a process in which the students who made the video could be forgiven.
Although Jansen was slated by many for his reconciliatory stance in the incident, Winfrey noted his strength of resolve, saying he “stood in his own truth” – a move she feels laid crucial stepping stones on the path to integration.
She urged the university to stay on track with its goal of building a united community.
“Believe in the vision that the university holds for every one of you … Take what has happened and use it to … move the country forward. That is my dream for you.”