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By Kim Shaw

Oprah Winfrey became a Kovsie this month. For those not familiar with the term, it’s given to students attending the University of the Free State and Oprah was in town to receive an honorary doctorate of education.

Receiving the honorary doctorate from university chancellor Khotso Mokhele, Winfrey relayed the story of how she came to be linked to Bloemfontein. Moved by a Sunday Times newspaper column on mediocrity written by university rector and vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen, Winfrey called the university and spoke to Professor Jansen. Her relationship with the university strengthened and this month saw the Queen of Talk arrive in the Free State capital.

Support from students and residents alike was phenomenal and tickets (at just R10 each!) sold out in hours. Around 4 500 people packed the hall to hear her speak.

Winfrey congratulated the university for its work at reconciliation, saying “What has happened here at the Free State in terms of racial reconciliation, of peace, of harmony, of one heart understanding and opening itself to another heart, is nothing short of a miracle. It is truly what the new South Africa is all about.

“I really believe what has happened here comes under the category of amazing,” she said.

She also praised Professor Jansen for the way he handled the so-called Reitz Four situation.

Winfrey tweeted the honour with “Free State that was a profoundly awesome experience. Thanks from the newly Dr’d Winfrey.”

Tweeted by ewnreporter: Professor Jonathan Jansen says “#Oprah is like #Obama, they’re not racially wounded.”

After 25 years as a talk show host, Winfrey launched the Oprah Winfrey Network in January, broadcasting to 80 million. Her connection with South Africa remains strong, and her first group of future leaders graduate from the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls this year.

* The Reitz Four students studied at the University of the Free State during 2007. The four white students lived in the men’s residence at the university and humiliated five black female workers in an initiation-type ceremony, which they filmed. The students pleaded guilty to a charge of crimen injuria in July 2010 and were each fined R20 000 or 12 months in jail.  Professor Jonathan Jansen played a major role in the reconciliation of the students and the workers, and has been instrumental in the transformation and integration of the university into a successful multi-racial, multi-cultural campus. Professor Jansen is one of SA’s most outspoken columnists and educators.

* Photographs from Camera on Campus: Rian Horn, Johan Roux, Stephen Collett (www.ufs.ac.za)

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