’Conservative Revolutionaries’ Anti-Apartheid Activism at the University of Cape Town 1963-1973 by Robert Erbmann (Oxford University), 2005

Introduction

The 1960s are often described as a unique period of activism, in which students were to find themselves at the cutting edge of social radicalism, overeager to thrust themselves into the tasks of reshaping their various societies. They have been seen as a time of revolt against the established values and traditions of societies, as well as an era of anti-imperialist protest, calling for an end to Western involvement in countries such as Vietnam and Algeria.1 What is surprising is that the history of youth in South Africa, particularly those from the English community, has never been analysed in this context. Whilst living in one of the last bastions of racist settler rule, South African English speaking society was heavily influenced by western culture, including the 'international language of dissent.2With the recent emphasis on 'cultural framing' in social movement theory,3 South Africa is an interesting case study of the impact of post-colonial social movements on an effectively colonial society. This thesis will therefore provide an examination of the impact of the global 'generational rebellion' on a society living in an almost singular cultural sphere. 

The history of white students between 1963 and 1973 is an important part of both the South African and international history of this period. Whilst the thesis begins and ends with government repression, from the first substantial attacks it faced from the Nationalist government in September 1963, to the banning of all protest in the centre of Cape Town in June 1973, this is only part of the story. Throughout most of the period, NUSAS was the most radical and outspoken organisation in resistance, albeit due to the repression of all of the more effective organs of opposition to the Nationalist government. Its prominence was such that Nelson Mandela singled it out as having 'acted as the conscience of white South Africans, even during the darkest days...of our struggle.4Moreover, the protests of these students received substantial coverage in the international media, were influenced both by ideology and forms of protest from abroad, and received significant support from other student movements across the world. The history of the student movement at the University of Cape Town (UCT), is  of particular significance within this context. Not only was it one of the two vibrant 'centres'from which the majority of effective anti-government protest was to originate, it was also where NUSAS was based, thus being at the epicentre both of vibrant local protest and the coordination of the national movement.  Marked by the first sit-in in South African history, and a breeding ground for the diffusion of western 'new left' ideologies  into the mainstream of national student politics, UCT is certainly an interesting and representative case study of student radicalism in the country as a whole.

Yet despite this, the topic of South African student radicalism has been conspicuously missing from the secondary literature. The last ten years have seen numerous works dealing with student radicalism and unrest in the 1960s, encompassing rebellion from the United States to Russia, and from France to China.5 Similarly, the end of the apartheid state in South Africa has brought a flowering of literature concerned with the 'struggle.6 Yet, despite its national and international prominence, the white student movement has merely been relegated to a footnote in most historical works. Whilst it was briefly examined in Thomas Karis and Gail Gerhart's documentary study of the liberation movement of South Africa, this was only in the context of being 'the seedbed in which a potent strain of Black Nationalism was to germinate.7 The only other treatment that NUSAS has received has been in a work of Martin Legassick and Chris Saunders,8 making up only a small part of their overall article on aboveground activity in the 1960s. In the absence of any substantial research on this topic, this thesis seeks to fill the clear gap in the secondary literature, looking at the student movement at UCT in its local, national and international context.

The argument is based on a wide array of sources. Substantial use has been made of Varsity, the weekly newspaper produced by the Student Representative Council (SRC) throughout term time. Whilst there are substantial problems both in terms of coverage (Varsity was only produced during term time) and issues of bias, these were somewhat offset by the use of press cuttings from the Cape Times, the Cape Argus and the Rand Daily Mail, the three English language newspapers from this period. There has also been an engagement with sources of a more primary nature as well. A tremendous amount of material produced by students was consulted, with correspondence, minutes of meetings and speeches drawn from both the NUSAS and SRC collections of papers. Whilst the record is clearly not complete, with some students keeping records significantly better than others, the use of these sources gives an interesting insight into the mindset of the key players, as well as a different perspective on events. In addition, use has also been made of the Administrative Archives and the personal archive of Sir Richard Luyt, who was Principal throughout the last five years of the study. These sources, whilst clearly looking at the situation on campus from a top down perspective, nevertheless provide a thorough coverage of events with a refreshingly different emphasis. Finally, in order to provide anecdotal evidence and to gather information on issues and events that may not have been recorded on paper, a number of interviews have been carried out with student activists, who were mainly, but not exclusively, in leadership positions. Whilst clearly there are problems of memory, retrospective interpretations and reliability, these interviews have also proved to be an enormously useful resource in terms of understanding events as well as attitudes.

As this thesis argues the importance of looking at social movements in their national political and cultural contexts, it approaches the material in a primarily chronological manner. Given that the dynamic of student protest is largely dependant on the interaction of ideology, forms of protest and the response of government, it would be somewhat simplistic to look at any of these aspects of the movement in isolation, due to their interrelated nature. These themes will be further drawn out in a lengthy conclusion, which through its comparison with other international movements, will place the UCT student movement in its international context, whilst shedding light on its peculiarly national characteristics.

The South African Background

In order to fully understand the nature of the UCT student movement one needs to evaluate the nature of the political system and cultural context within which they operated. From the election of the Nationalist Government in 1948, a spate of legislation was passed designed to entrench white rule in the nation, establishing deliberate racial discrimination, ostensibly under the direction of 'separate development.9 The 1950s and early 1960s also saw a significant level of opposition to such policies of apartheid, most notably from the African National Congress (ANC), the Communist Party (SACP), and the Pan-African Congress (PAC). In order to combat these organisations, the state was granted a wide array of powers to act against any organisation or individual that it felt was aiming to bring about 'any political, industrial social or economic change...by the promotion of disturbance or disorder;10 Those deemed by the Minister of Justice to be promoting any of the defined aims of communism could be served with 'banning orders,' which restricted a person's freedom of employment, movement and association. The government also had the powers to detain any person suspected of sabotage or 'communist activities'for up to ninety days without a warrant, and to re-detain them after this period had expired.11 Through the use of these powers, the entire leadership of the ANC, the PAC, the Communist Party and SACTU was all largely eliminated by the mid-1964, with activities restricted to campaigns beyond South Africa's borders by those in exile, leaving primarily white dominated organisations as the only effective political opposition in the country.12

The apartheid system was also entrenched culturally, in both the Afrikaner and English speaking spheres. Laws introduced in 1962 and 1963 prohibited the reproduction or printing of any 'banned or listed' persons or organisations, as well as anything that could be deemed as contravening the Suppression of Communism Act. This meant that any articulation of 'Marxist' ideology published after this date was not legally available, either in the shops or university libraries.13 From 1960 onwards, there were also attempts made to re-orientate radio in the 'national interest.' Broadcasted news was to 'be treated with the utmost circumspection, so that all the most important and responsible points of view are reflected.' Everything that would 'disrupt the traditionally good relations between the non-white...and white population groups,' was scrupulously avoided.14 Indeed, South Africa was probably unique in that even its richest citizens would have no experience of television within their country until 1976, prohibited by the Nationalist government over fears of its possible degenerational effect on society.15

The Student Background

The National Union of South African Students was founded in 1924, initially made up of representatives from all the 'white' universities, both English and Afrikaans, with the latter leaving in the early 1930s. Whilst NUSAS finally accepted black students in 1946, it failed to enter national politics until the late 1950s, refusing an invitation to the Congress of Democrats and rejecting the Freedom Charter in 1955.16 However, the publication of the Separate University Education Bill in 1957 sparked a series of protests which set NUSAS on the path of increasing politicisation. In 1959, when the segregation of the universities became law, non-white students were only allowed to attend the 'open' universities such as Cape Town with government permission, only granted if courses were unavailable at their own 'tribal' colleges. However, a significant number of students were radicalised by campaigns against the bill, with up to 3,000 taking part in demonstrations and marches in Cape Town.17

Yet in the early 1960s, at a time of great political unrest, NUSAS as an organisation failed to play an active role in resistance to the state. The only significant demonstration against the Sharpeville atrocities, in which 69 peaceful protesters were killed, featured merely 200 students engaging in a 24 hour fast, with a similar number disassociating themselves from the 'liberal' actions of their fellow students.18 From 1962 onwards, a number of individuals involved with both NUSAS and the Student Representative Councils (SRCs) at UCT and Witwatersrand became involved with a white sabotage group known as the African Resistance Movement (ARM). Involved primarily in the destruction of electricity pylons and radio masts19, their capture was to prove enormously significant in the defensive position faced by NUSAS and the UCT SRC in the early part of the period under investigation.

Chapter One - Under Attack: The Defence of Academic Freedom and NUSAS 1963 - 1967

This period began with the UCT student movement and the National Union in an essentially defensive position as a result of attacks from both within and outside the university campus, fuelled heavily by the discovery of student involvement in the ARM. Throughout, both groups were generally concerned with defending their authority and representative status, limited to campus issues rather than general anti-apartheid protest. Not only did the banning of two notable academics pass rather quietly, but the movement failed to protest against any issues outside the confines of campus. When protests did take place, they tended to be over the traditional issue of academic freedom, staunchly in line with the traditions of Capetonian English liberalism. Thus, forced into largely defensive measures throughout this period, the UCT student movement evolved little, either ideologically or in the forms of protest pursued. In contrast to the growing radicalisation of student movements across the world during the mid-1960s, the student movement of UCT largely stood still.

The Liberal Paradigm and Academic Freedom

In September 1963, one can argue that the majority of students involved in anti-apartheid protest and activism at UCT identified themselves broadly as 'liberals.' This had its roots in the Cape English Liberal tradition,20and concerned itself primarily with the pursuit of freedom, justice and equality. It was also part of a newer tradition that defined itself in opposition to Afrikaner Nationalism, and the illiberal approach of the Nationalist government to issues such as the due process of law. Liberals of this ilk clearly found the enshrinement of racial discrimination into South African law as completely abhorrent, and wholeheartedly opposed discrimination solely on the grounds of race. Yet, in terms of the wider issue of democracy, such liberals were more ambiguous. Whilst many of the more radical students saw themselves as fighting for a fully representative democracy, others involved with the student movement throughout this period identified primarily with the politics of the Progressive Party, which believed in a qualified franchise that would realistically see only a small proportion of non-white South Africans voting.21

A similarly important ideological concept was that of 'Academic Freedom' which formed the ideological basis for the majority of protest, especially before 1968. Defined by Principal T.B. Davie in the 1950s as the 'freedom to choose whom to teach, how to teach, what to teach, and whom shall teach it;22it was firmly rooted in the opposition to the Extension of University Education Act in the late 1950s, with protests centred mainly on government encroachments into the university campus. The ideology gave an articulation of freedom centrally concerned with the everyday lives of the students, which when attacked by the government could serve as an effective rallying cry for the whole university.  Whilst in theory, even the most conservative within the student movement recognised the necessity of pursuing 'academic freedom... in the wider context of human freedom,23 in practice, the emphasis on matters concerned with the university as an institution led the majority of students into a narrow, reactive posture. Protests were aimed almost solely against specific intrusion of the apartheid regime onto their campus, rather than against the concept of apartheid as a whole

Internal and external attacks

Throughout 1963 and 1964, public attacks were launched on NUSAS by both the government and the state controlled SABC. These reached a fever pitch in late 1963, where the union was described as 'the mouthpiece of the communists...a cancer in the life of South Africa that must be cut out.24On the UCT campus, this situation was mirrored by internal attacks, both from conservative students and the university authorities. Initially, these took the form of a disaffiliation drive against the automatic membership system of NUSAS, designed to deprive the union of its financial and representative clout. After having succeeded in bringing 150 students to resign their membership, the Conservative Students' Association (CSA) was formed in March 1964, with its avowed intent 'to create such hell that the government will be forced to take action25 against the union. Whilst its numbers never reached more than 200 and were often less than twenty, it was a constant thorn in the side of the SRC throughout this period.26

This condemnation from both quarters became more widespread after the exposure of a number of NUSAS leaders and UCT students as members of the ARM in November 1964. This dealt both the union and students involved in extra-campus politics a substantial blow. Given that the vast majority of those at UCT were traditional liberals, such illegal actions were seen as a fundamental betrayal of the values of the university. An atmosphere was created in which a majority of students opposed involvement in overtly political activity,27 placing the SRC on a defensive, more conservative footing. In addition, it handed a propaganda victory to the Nationalist government, whose attacks on the students had seemingly been vindicated. After the conviction of the ARM members, Vorster could credibly complain of NUSAS's  'long flirtation and connection with leftist organisations,' and demand that the university authorities 'clean out their stable.28Their exposure was also was used as an excuse for a series of bannings at the beginning of 1965, designed to remove 'communists'from the teaching staff of the universities, and depriving UCT of a leading African specialist, Professor Jack Simons. Finally, the affair was also a turning point in relations with Principal Duminy, who from this point onwards directed speech after speech against 'militant activist' students.29Indeed, the extent to which the national and local movement felt under attack can be seen in the distinctive absence of protest over the banning of Jack Simons. Whilst a mass meeting of over 1,000 students endorsed the SRC's condemnation of the gross infringement against their university, very little protest occurred beyond the confines of Jameson Hall.30

The year 1965 also saw the CSA step up its campaign against automatic enrolment, whilst at the same time attacking the clause in the SRC's constitution which made the formation of segregated societies illegal on campus.31With pressure applied from the Minister of Education to take action in both these matters, in early 196632Duminy persuaded the University Council to appoint a commission to look into the matter, as well as demanding that the SRC change their manner of affiliation to NUSAS.33Thus, the early years of this period were essentially defensive in their nature. Under attack from the Nationalist government, conservative students and the university administration, and discredited by the involvement of prominent student leaders in sabotage; the movement was primarily occupied with maintaining its credibility and representative status. Protest was essentially reactive in its nature, and hardly left the university grounds.

The Kennedy Visit and the banning of Ian Robertson

Yet repressive government action would bring a renaissance in the fortunes of both the local and national movement. In mid-1966, the students of UCT were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Robert Kennedy on campus, invited with the intention of causing grave embarrassment to the government.34Less than a month before the visit was due, the President of NUSAS, Ian Robertson, was served with three banning orders, seemingly in a fit of pique against the publicity the visit would bring to the liberal cause.35 Condemned immediately by the SRC as a 'totalitarian infringement of human rights,36 this stance was later confirmed by a mass meeting of approximately 4,000 students. Immediately following this, around 2000 students marched through the streets of Cape Town, ending by handing the meeting's resolution to the Chief Magistrate. After an undertaking was made to pass it on to the Minister for Justice, the demonstration dispersed largely without incident.37The next stage of the protest involved sending a delegation from NUSAS to see the Minister. Whilst he agreed to receive them, the meeting was used not to discuss the banning, but rather to lecture the deputation on the misdemeanours of the National Union.38In response, hundreds of students were to take part in a candle lit vigil outside both St. George's Cathedral and Jameson Hall.39

This campaign used techniques of protest that were very much within the liberal tradition. At every stage, the protests followed a legalistic formula, asking for a traditional redress of grievances from government that had its roots in British eighteenth century protest. Similarly, the use of candle lit vigils borrows significantly from the traditions of the Torch Commando, a protest movement formed against the disenfranchisement of 'coloured' voters in the early 1950s,40as well as drawing heavily on the pacifist tradition and Christian notions of bearing witness. A number of students attended the protests in academic gowns, which shows a desire to present a view of themselves as respectable, designed in a manner that would be approved of by establishment figures, which was thought to give their cause the greatest chance of success. This offers a clear insight into the cultural context in which these students lived and operated. Protest did not rely on intimidatory tactics to try and force the government's hand, but rather took the form of a well reasoned plea to the student body, the Chief Magistrate and the Minister of Justice; showing a level of respect for the 'democratic' process and laws of South African society. Whilst the students clearly felt wronged by the banning of their leader, they were not prepared to go beyond lawful means in an attempt to reverse government policy, entirely in line with the Capetonian Liberal tradition.

All of this served to make Kennedy's eventual arrival at UCT a spectacular victory for the student movement in the public arena. Mobbed by an audience of 15,000 to watch his speech live either in the Jameson Hall or by television link up, the speech was screened to a number of audiences abroad, as well as making front page news across South Africa, the USA and Western Europe. This audience also observed an unoccupied seat to represent the absence of Robertson, as well as Kennedy's forceful declaration that 'the way of opposition to communism is not to imitate its dictatorship but to enlarge the development of individual human freedom.41The impact of the visit can be seen in an editorial by the Rand Daily Mail merely five days later. It stated that 'he made idealism respectable again...Suddenly all the liberal groups and a huge chunk of our frustrated youth feel alive...Senator Kennedy's message made them realise that they were not alone.'42

Yet the event did little to alter the essentially defensive position of the student movement on campus, with the SRC occupied in battle with the university administration for over a year. Relations between the principal and the students had been damaged enormously by Duminy's refusal to condemn the banning of Ian Robertson, claiming that he could not 'imagine that any body of responsible and sensible men...would take such a drastic step without ...good cause.'43This led to calls for his resignation from a student body up in arms, and the resultant banning of Varsity for three months.44 In March of 1967, with the Minister of Education having threatened to place legislation on the books that would prevent non-white students at 'white' universities from joining student societies,45 the University Council tried to impose a new constitution on the SRC. This held a clause that would allow clubs and societies to be restricted on racial grounds. Whilst eventually met by the SRC with a 'declaration of independence,'46and a refusal to function under the new constitution, it meant that the bulk of that year was spent in time consuming conflict with the administration, rather than in opposition to the government. This can be seen in the muted protests that were to accompany the banning of Dr. Raymond Hoffenberg in August 1967, a senior physician in the Department of Medicine at UCT, as well as an adviser to NUSAS. Whilst over 1600 students attended a mass meeting to protest the banning, a mere 50 of those travelled to St. George's Cathedral for the off-campus demonstration.47

Chapter 2: Radicalisation 1968-70

The period between 1968 and 1970, particularly after the critical event of the Mafeje sit-in, was a phase of rapid change for the student movement.  Ideologically, this was to take the form of a movement away from the liberal consensus, and the influence of new Marxist and Black Consciousness ideas. In terms of protest forms, it saw, at least when provoked with extreme government action, the replacement of the liberal mass meetings and marches with sit-ins and occupations. Thus, after the sit-in of 1968, the student movement rapidly evolved along more radical lines.

The Radical Students' Society (RSS)

The RSS was formed by Raphie Kaplinsky in April 1967, set up primarily 'to make people politically aware and think for themselves,' through lectures and seminars designed to question the societal norms of apartheid and capitalism.48This fed significantly on the previous traditions of the Modern World Society, a small group with Trotskyite leanings, strikingly similar ideologically to important figures in the British movement such as Tariq Ali.49With the arrival and growing influence of Rick Turner,  recently returned to the Western Cape from his doctorate in philosophy at the Sorbonne; this group began to debate the ideas of 'New Left' ideologues such as Louis Althusser, Herbert Marcuse, Antonio Gramsci and Claude Levy Strauss. Yet this group, much like its predecessors, did not initially attract a substantial following, with a core of no more than fifteen to twenty five students. Never seen as a body of action, its primary purpose was that of 'mind fucking and talking about issues.'50Yet it would be through action rather than words that its ideological influences expanded.

The beginning of 1968 also saw a change in Principal, with the unpopular Duminy replaced by Sir Richard Luyt, former Governor of British Guiana. Keen to heal the existing rift with the students, he quickly revoked the previous attempts to impose a constitution on the SRC, and allowed integrated social functions on campus for the first time.51The effect of healing relations between the university administration and students allowed the movement to concentrate protest against the government rather than becoming absorbed in internal issues. As the expansion of conflict in Vietnam, and the eruption of student protest throughout the world  began to gather momentum in 1968; an increasing number of students began to believe in their own power, as international events made them believe that 'we, as students could achieve things.'52The effect of the international climate and the creation of a more united front between students and staff can be seen in the revival of protest in April 1968, as more than 2000 turned out to support Dr. Hoffenberg on leaving South Africa, after accepting a one way exit permit out of the country.

The Mafeje Sit-in: A Critical Event

Much like other student movements across the world, such as the Berkeley 'Free Speech Movement;'53 the ideological radicalisation at UCT was to occur in defence of a traditional campus concept, that of academic freedom. In June 1968, the University Council withdrew an offer of a post to Archie Mafeje, a black South African anthropologist, as a result of pressure brought by the Minister of Education.54With closer ties between the university administration and the SRC, the student representatives grudgingly agreed to hold a joint mass meeting in unified protest, in a similar format to previous protest forms. However, the anger on campus over the weakness of the administration in caving in to the government was expressed in an unplanned and impromptu speech by Kaplinsky. Condemning the meeting as 'a salve to conscience and a ritual,' he slated the administration for doing the government's 'dirty work'for them. Giving them a week to change their minds, he called for a second mass meeting, which if the demands of the students had not been met would lead to a sit-in.55

Inspired by the May uprising in Paris and the Columbia sit-in, many students identified with Kaplinsky's conjecture that more radical techniques were needed if the protest was to have a chance of success.56Yet the students were not entirely prepared for such a radical departure from their previous forms of protest. Geoff Budlender, a first year, was not alone in arriving to the sit-in in a jacket and tie, aware that he was required to wear such dress to the administration building under the university regulations.57Similarly, even Kaplinsky only envisaged spending a few hours inside the building, and had little idea of how the protest would pan out. Nonetheless, his speech outside the administration building boldly asserted, 'we'll stay inside until our demands are met. The only rules are that we don't wear jackets and ties.' To the guitar accompaniment of the civil rights anthem 'We Shall Overcome,' 600 students entered the building and sat down in protest.58

As the University Council refused to accept any of the demands of the students, they began to dig in for the long haul. Over 300 people slept in the administration building that first night, beginning a process of self organisation, with committees set up to organise food, education and a 'police force' to guard against intruders.59The sit-in went on for nine days and functioned as an alternative university. Lectures, tutorials and teach-ins were held in over seventeen subjects, ranging from student power and academic freedom, to homosexuality and power structures. Political discussions went on through the night, often dominated by charismatic speakers such as Kaplinsky and Turner, coming from their respective Marxist and new Marxist perspectives. A number of 'love-ins' also took place, with many students losing their virginity in secluded parts of the administration building.

The event also received favourable attention both in the local press and the international media, with footage reaching the television screens of approximately 400 million people across the world, as well as being the first event supported by the Voice of America and Radio Moscow since World War Two.60However, with growing exhaustion and under the threat of violence from both Stellenbosch students who attacked on the 23rd August, as well as from Prime Minister Vorster who threatened police intervention if the students were not out of the building by the following Monday at 11 am,61the sit-in came to an end.

The events of August 1968 marked a significant departure from previous protests. This can be seen in the symbolic casting off of jackets and ties, as well as the first large scale provision of an alternative education. Accompanied by the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles,62the cultural influences in play seem much more directly linked to global student rebellion than indigenous traditions. The sit-in also marked the beginnings of an ideological shift amongst student protesters, radicalised by the action of protest, its radical leadership and its educational program of films, teach-ins and political discussions. For Geoff Budlender, then a member of the 'liberal' Progressive Party, it served to 'open me to ideas that I'd never really thought about, whilst Jeremy Cronin was to assert that the sit-in 'changed my life.'63The movement of the ideological atmosphere was so rapid that Kaplinsky likened it to 'a revolution' in which 'our world views completely changed.'64The majority of the 1000 people who passed through this experience seem to have undergone some sort of ideological shift, as can be seen in the SRC elections two weeks later.65In addition, for the very first time, the UCT campus had a group in the hundreds that saw the pursuit of political change off campus as the primary focus of their student lives. Whilst ideological definitions were still fairly fluid at this point, the major effect of the sit-in had been to shatter the primacy of liberal ideas on campus, offering an alternative radical viewpoint to both the problems and potential solutions faced by South African society.

Yet the belief that protests should be respectable and within the law continued. Great care was taken not to offend the staff who continued to have the use of some of the offices, and signs were put up all over the building exhorting students not to put their feet on the tables or stub cigarettes out on the floor. The consumption of alcohol and marijuana was unanimously banned, as the students were anxious that their protest should be taken seriously by all concerned, a decision abided by all of the participants.66 Thus, whilst the sit-in was certainly inspired by the other student movements around the world, attitudes towards respectability and law breaking remained very different to its counterparts in the USA, Paris or even London. Moreover subsequent protests, such as the demonstration to mark the ten year anniversary of the University Act in April 1969, changed very little in essence from the previous mass meetings, marches and candle lit vigils that had occurred at earlier times.

Changing ideological contexts and evolution of protest

The years 1969 and 1970 were, however, marked by substantial ideological change, both on a local and national level. Locally, the year 1969 saw a growing number of weekend seminars at Turner's farm in Stellenbosch, where a substantial number of students would spend the weekend educating themselves in new Marxist ideology.67Yet this period was to see far more important influences in terms of the national context. July 1969 saw the formation of SASO, a movement influenced along Black Consciousness lines, with its ideological roots in the work of Stokely Carmichael.68After the withdrawal of the vast majority of 'black' students from the National Union, and the rejection of white students as standing 'piously on ineffective platforms, issuing impotent fulminations against "the system;" an ideological crisis of relevance began to take root on a national level.69Continuous debate took place about what direction the union's activities should take, and indeed whether they should take place at all.

It was here where long standing radical critiques, combined with the SASO criticisms, led to a reformulation of NUSAS ideology and goals along far more radical lines. Replacing its previous stance as a student union committed to bringing democratic change through political protest, the union re-orientated itself to bringing social change through the empowerment of all of its citizens. White students were no longer seen as the embodiment of the struggle, but as an educated and privileged group who could offer their skills, expertise and financial resources to empower the oppressed to fight for their own interests. Whilst political protest was not to end, it was to be done in a much more systematic way, with campaigns on issues affecting society as a whole, rather than merely a reaction to university orientated government action. Organisationally, greater emphasis was placed on community development, voluntary work and education designed with the objective of empowering the 'black' community. This could be seen in the formation of three secretariats, NUSWEL, NUSED, and AQUARIUS, whose roles in welfare, education and counter cultural activities were seen as crucial in the social change model.70

Yet a continual feature of this period was that the protest forms generally remained along largely liberal lines, and only changed as a result of repressive government responses against students. This can be seen in the campaign that met the detention of 'the 22,' a group of Africans who were acquitted in trial of unlawful activities, and then immediately arrested and re-detained.71The initial protests were small, with merely 200-300 students demonstrating on the steps of St. George's Cathedral.72Following the arrest of 357 students from the University of Witwatersrand a week later, student plans to hold a march were refused permission by the City Council. Still primarily law abiding, the SRC recommended to a mass meeting of around 2000 students not to hold an illegal march, but pointed out that they could legally walk to the Town Hall in groups of eleven. Three hundred students made the journey in small groups to the Town Hall, where they staged a brief occupation, whilst a five man deputation met with the Town Clerk to register their protest against the continued detention of the '22.' A demonstration was then held at St. George's Cathedral, with 400 students taking part in an illegal march to Hiddingh Hall. In an effort to find new forms of protest, the students were actually quite inventive with their techniques. The next week, 22 people picketed on the steps of the Cathedral for two days, and a day later a mock trial was held to symbolise the perversion of justice in the Student Union. In addition to these protests, approximately 35,000 leaflets were distributed, and a petition was gathered with over 5,000 signatures73

The forms of protest for this campaign departed in a number of ways from those that preceded them. Firstly, this campaign saw the introduction of counter-cultural protest, for the first time. Whilst coming out of an organised wing of NUSAS that had been earmarked to include 'guerrilla theatre' and other cultural forms,74it shows the influence of groups such as the 'Situationist International' upon the students of Cape Town.75Secondly,  by both testing and then going on to break the law, even in such a technical manner, one can see an evolution in the students' approach to the legitimacy of the South African regime. This can be seen in the speech to the mass meeting given by Neville Curtis, President of NUSAS, who stated that 'the time has come for people of conscience to decide whether they should continue to accept immoral acts by the government and un-Christian laws.'76Yet such an approach did not extend as far as damage to property. Whilst occupying the Town Hall, a female student accidentally cracked a glass table while the students were milling about. This led the students to call for a collection and produce a shower of coins to pay for the damage.77Thus, as one can see from this campaign, the UCT movement was becoming growingly influenced by overseas movements, moving away from its traditional forms of protest. Yet whilst attitudes towards the state had evolved, they had not changed in a revolutionary manner, still characterised by a fundamentally deferent attitude towards the law.

Chapter 3:  Political Protest, Trade Unions and Repression  1971- 3

The growing acceptance of Black Consciousness and new Marxist ideas throughout this period led to an articulation of class based racial explanations of apartheid by Rick Turner, who by now was an enormously influential force on the national student movement as a whole. His widely distributed work, 'The Eye of the Needle,' gave a view of racist society within South Africa that seems heavily dependant on the structuralist ideas of Althusser and Foucault. It expounded the view that race was secondary to class discrimination in their society, merely serving as an ideological tool to allow subsistence wages, and the expropriation of surplus to allow the consumption of expensive consumer goods. Whilst he agreed with Biko that 'the major factor in bringing about change in South Africa will be Black action,' he also maintained that 'the way in which the white group reacts to black pressure will be enormously important.'78He thus envisaged two roles in which white students could become involved in societal change.

Firstly, they could offer the expertise and skills that they had gained from a life of privilege to aid black action, particularly in the arena of Black labour, which, if organised, could become a potentially revolutionary force. Secondly, there was a role to play in the 'area of changing white consciousness,' and making whites realise that they were also oppressed by 'a social system which perpetuates itself by creating white lords, black slaves, and no full human beings.'79The period 1971-3 is important for the degree to which this ideology was put into practice. Through the instigation of black empowerment through community action, the adoption of protest as a more fundamental rejection of apartheid society, and the mobilisation of black labour through the Wages Commissions, changes in student activism were to largely represent their ideological beliefs.

Community Action

Whilst students at UCT had been involved with providing basic services to non-white communities since 1943; the privileged students had tended 'to assume a benevolent paternalistic attitude to the role,' which many of the community's leaders argued would perpetuate their psychological reliance on white charity.80Based around the NUSAS local committees, 1971 saw community action take a very different form. Students involved themselves in literacy campaigns that linked 'basic education with development...used...to help people take responsibility for society.'81Similarly, plans were drawn up for community development projects along the same lines as those in the United States. Whilst neither of these campaigns was particularly successful, they clearly show the implementation of forms of protest that were consistent with ideology. The extent to which one can identify the influence of ideology on practice can be seen in the following memo to all those involved in community action. It stated:

'We whites will have to realise: We are not important to South Africa, except in the sense that you prevent change from taking place...you are merely an intermediate vehicle for change. Liberals have assumed the role of being the revolution personified for too long.'82

Anti-systemic protest

This movement towards a more fundamental rejection of societal values can also be seen in the protests against the state celebration of South Africa's ten year anniversary as a republic in May 1971. The choice of this as an issue shows a systematic rejection of the apartheid state in all of its lustre. In addition, the campaign looked to alternative methods designed to be more effective in changing 'white consciousness.' Involving hundreds of students in a leafleting campaign exposing the inequities of the apartheid system, it exhorted their readers not to 'celebrate apartheid!'83To disrupt the 'day of youth' planned for the celebrations, students also spent a number of days leafleting secondary schools, challenging them to question the values of their society, and to refuse to become involved with the festival.84The period also saw further counter cultural protests, reaching their height against the exclusion of the 'coloured' community from the newly built Nico Malan Opera House. Taking the form of a mock tableau, with whites with dog leads attached to 'black' students, it ended with money being collected from the 'blacks' and handed to a ballerina.85Yet, much like across the rest of the world, the use of counter cultural protest never really went beyond a minority pursuit, and its  hierarchical nature as part of the NUSAS structure destroyed any hope of it being a useful way of challenging authoritarian modes within society. Moreover, whilst one can certainly see evidence of evolution in the forms of protest in this period, many other demonstrations were characterised by the more traditional forms of  the early 1960s. As Geoff Budlender stated, 'it was the same bloody rituals we used to go through all the time...stand on the steps of the Cathedral and hold posters, go to the mass meetings and pass resolutions, sign a petition...a lot of people were disillusioned with what had essentially become a ritualised form of protest.'86

Yet even such liberal, 'ritualised'forms could be effective, if mishandled by the police. After the expulsion of the SRC President of Turfloop University for comments made in a graduation speech, sit down protests led to the expulsion of the entire student body. This led to lecture boycotts at other 'tribal colleges,' which ended with over 100 students expelled.87As part of a NUSAS campaign in solidarity with these campuses, May 1972 saw lectures and leafleting seeking to highlight conditions at these universities. This culminated in a number of students participating in a stay-away from lectures on the 1st June, to attend a four hour teach-in addressed by influential figures such as Turner and Father McBride (a 'coloured' Anglican minister). From this, a group of 40-50 decided to stage a picket protest outside the Houses of Parliament. After being told to move on by the police for an hour, all of the protesters sat down in the middle of the pavement, where they were all arrested.88

The response of the students was to hold a very traditional form of protest the next day on the steps of the Cathedral, with around 400 making the journey into town. Unspectacularly mediocre in nature, after an hour, around fifty of the protesters had left as the demonstration began to get boring.89Inexplicably, the demonstration was stormed by the police with rubber batons, forcing the students off the steps with violence, followed by the police moving into the Cathedral where the students had taken refuge. One student was 'pushed out of the Cathedral side door by a group of plain clothes officers... down into the uniformed policemen, who hit me indiscriminately until my head started bleeding. They threw me into a van, poking me in the stomach.'90The effect of this was to have a tremendously radicalising force on the campus. 'Everyone knew someone who had been beaten...it was very personal. Students had been beaten by the police, and if we knew one thing, it was that we didn't like the police.'91

Within hours, the student community was mobilised. A meeting was organised immediately, with action planning sessions of around 200 students becoming a daily occurrence for the weeks to follow.92 Leaflets were distributed the next day, with enormous protests planned for the 5th June.93This began with a mass meeting of approximately 4,000 students, from which the students had planned to travel straight to St. George's Cathedral for a silent protest. Less than five minutes before the buses were due to leave, Budlender, the SRC President, was notified by the police that an injunction had been taken out against all demonstrations within Cape Town. The decision was made to divert the buses carrying over 2000 people to Hiddingh Hall campus, where they could make a decision as to whether the march should continue.94Assembled and ready to march, news then came to the leadership that the police were waiting for them, armed not only with batons, but also with firearms, threatening that 'there was going to be blood this time.'95It was a moment of truth for the SRC leadership, a possible revolutionary moment which made students realise the full repressive apparatus in the hands of the state. Fearing a substantial loss of life, Budlender exhorted his fellow students to split up into groups of two and three and distribute leaflets, exclaiming 'we are not going to give them the opportunity to kill us.'96In the meantime, thousands of students, staff and members of anti-apartheid organisations had already made their own way to the Cathedral. The police response was to attempt to disperse the crowd, charging them with batons, firing tear gas and arresting 61 people, including several clergymen. Fearing police brutality, a crowd of over 2000 took refuge in the Cathedral, and stayed until they could finally negotiate safe passage with the police, many hours later.97

Whilst another demonstration was also planned for the 7th June, it was immediately ruled illegal. On the day of the planned protest, a large number of students were gathered on the steps of Jameson Hall, a common area of congregation. When a police car came onto the campus, this provoked a larger number of students towards the steps in confrontation. The students were told that by sitting in their everyday hangout they were part of an illegal meeting, and were given a three minute warning to move before they would be removed by force. Around 400 of them stayed on the steps; whilst 800 others gathered around and ironically jeered the policemen with shouts of 'Sieg Heil.' The students were then driven off the steps with yet another baton charge. After this, the university managed to get a legal interdict against a police presence on campus, and whilst protests continued, the absence of further police provocation meant that they slowly petered out, reaching an end with the holidays three weeks later.98

Whilst these protests were among the most orderly that occurred in this period, the police response brought tremendous goodwill for the student campaigners. Whilst the extent of the protests, and indeed the repressive responses by the government, were by no means as significant as those taking place on the non-white campuses; the racial construction of South Africa meant that action taken against the UCT student movement would have a far greater impact on the white community. As an editorial in the Argus stated, 'suddenly whites learnt what blacks have known for a decade, that the police can be destroyers, not defenders, of law and order.'99 The events also saw a significant mobilisation of the Capetonian liberal establishment, with so many in attendance of a meeting held by the students at Rondebosch Town Hall, that many prominent members of the community were forced to listen to the speeches sat outside, on the floor of the foyer.100Moreover, the effect of police intervention also radicalised a number of students into sustained action. A small peaceful protest of around 400 people led to demonstrations involving thousands, as well as a major national and international incident.101As Clement Erbmann stated, 'the police played into our hands to be blunt...They didn't understand the idea of repressive tolerance...they always had to overreact, and that's what generated the energy on campus.'102

The radicalisation and raised profile of white students eventually led to a repressive crackdown that brought many of the activities of the UCT student movement to an end. With the belief that the Wages Commission in Natal had been responsible for the first wave of industrial action to sweep the region for a decade, the government became determined to act decisively against the students. Geoff Budlender's house was to be firebombed in August 1972, with two of his housemates lucky to survive the attack.103The recommendations of the Schlebusch Commission of Inquiry into organisations including NUSAS, SASO, the University Christian Movement and Black Sash in early 1973 was led to the banning of eight leadership figures in the national union in February, as well as eight others in SASO.104The effect of these banning orders, whilst they initially brought protests at UCT and other campuses around the country, was to significantly curtail the activities of white students for a number of years, as they were deprived of some of their most effective leadership. Thus, when the government was to place a prohibition on all outdoor gatherings in the centre of Cape Town in June 1973, the UCT movement, still operating within the law, lacked the leadership to resist these measures in an effective manner. The end result was the almost total end of overtly political protest by students in Cape Town, with both the UCT movement and the national union rendered largely ineffective until the resurgence of student action with the Soweto strikes in 1976.105

The Wages Commission

The early 1970s saw the beginnings of student involvement in their most revolutionary form of activism, the Wages Commission. Started by Turner at Natal University in early 1971, they were adopted by a NUSAS congress that July, and quickly spread to the other campuses. As a confidential memo from Jeanette Curtis suggests, the NUSAS official primarily involved in the spread of these commissions, they had two basic and separate functions. One side was involved with the liberal and respectable role of undertaking investigations, lobbying employers and attending wage board hearings on behalf of workers. The other, less public element was the 'promotion of "worker power" through the initiation of a conscientization (sic) process.'106Efforts were to be taken to educate and organise workers with the eventual goal of forming trade unions that could fight for better wages and working conditions in the short term, with a long run goal of forming a base from which trade union power could bring the liberation of the black community.
Whilst the years 1971-2 had been primarily absorbed with academic investigations into the pay and conditions of workers throughout the Western Cape, and sitting on wage boards;107the end of 1972 was to see the beginnings of such worker organisation. It began with the engagement with former SACTU officials, trade unionists who had been involved with the liberation struggle in the late 1950s and early 1960s.108At the same time the Commission began to publish a workers' newsletter in Xhosa, which provided a curious combination of worker advice and Marxist incitement.109 In October, the Commission organised its first 'educational' meeting attended by about 20 workers, involving a simulation of working conditions and power structures within a factory. With help in recruitment