Oprah was in South African the other day. So, some obscure university with a race scandal to bury decided to make a better name for itself by holding a full-on graduation… just for Oprah’s pretend degree.
Oprah Winfrey accepted an honorary degree from a central South African university infamous for troubled race relations, saying Friday the institution had turned an ugly experience into a model for confronting the challenges of reconciliation and remorse.
Winfrey came to a school where five years ago, four white students made a video humiliating black housekeeping staff — they are shown eating a stew the students had mimed spiking with urine — and expressing opposition to integrating the historically white University of the Free State. Jonathan Jansen, who in 2009 became the university’s first black rector, called for the four to be forgiven and rehabilitated.
Jansen withstood accusations he was conceding too much to racists as he led the university, the students and the cleaners in a closely watched discussion of the role forgiveness could play in post-apartheid South Africa. In a campus ceremony earlier this year, the students’ public apology was accepted by the cleaners.
After receiving her honorary education doctorate Friday, Winfrey called five cleaners to the stage and pronounced them heroes.
“What has happened here at 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,” she said. “It is truly what the new South Africa is all about.”
Winfrey said she had approached Jansen after reading about his work, and accepted an invitation to come to speak to students. University officials decided to make it a grand event.
A roar from hundreds of people gathered outside first alerted those inside the university auditorium that Winfrey was about to enter for a ceremony for one that offered as much pomp, circumstance, song and dance as a full class’s graduation. She threw her arms out with joy when told she was now a member of the university family — a “Kovsie.” Other moments moved her to tears.
She kneeled on a padded stool to have her degree bestowed, flashing red stiletto heels to the cheering audience of all races.
SMH, anything to steal Chelly-O’s spotlight, huh Oprah?