The NUSAS Issue” by Baruch, H. (1979). Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt: Roots of A Revolution, Zed Press: London

Throughout the 1960's black students campaigned for the right to affiliate to the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and just as steadfastly, the move was vetoed by the campus authorities. NUSAS was also keen to welcome the colleges into their fold. Not only would this make it the largest student organisation in the country, but it would also bring into the liberal ''old all student opponents of the government's apartheid policy.

Despite this general clamour by leading members on the black campuses to affiliate, there had always been dissident voices which claimed that NUSAS as part of a 'white imperialist front'. The Non-European Unity Movement always adopted this viewpoint, and between 1954 and 1957 had even managed to secure student support at Fort Hare for disaffiliation from NUSAS. In the late fifties, the Non-European Unity Movement body, the "regressive National Student Organisation, called for 'non-collaboration with x collaborators', and secured considerable student support. This attitude vas later described by the South African Students Organisation (SASO) leaders, in one of their publications, as 'emotional'. Yet, after nearly a decade of agitation in which students in the black colleges demanded the right to affiliate to NUSAS, and after witnessing some.

This volte face changed the nature of black student politics and contributed, in part, to the launching of other black organisations in the early 1970's. To trace the events leading to this reversal, after a decade of agitation in favour of affiliation, it is necessary to look briefly at developments in NUSAS.

NUSAS was formed in 1924 in order to unite all the university students! South Africa. At that stage the universities concerned were few in number, and were exclusively white in composition. The attempt to unite English and Afrikaans-speaking students failed during the thirties. In the decade preceding the Second World War, many students on the English-speaking campuses were inclined towards a programme of liberal democracy, although they thought primarily of a democracy that would embrace all whites. In 1933, when Fort Hare was proposed as a full member of NUSAS, a Commission was set up by the students, and as a result of their report the constitution was amended to read: 'NUSAS is a federation of the SRCs of European universities, and University Colleges, and o pro-NUSAS branches European University Colleges.' The University Colleges of Potchefstroom and Pretoria, and Grey University College, Bloemfontein had already withdrawn in 1933. The latter College had already decided that NUSAS was:

too English, too imperialistic, too negrophilistic in colour . . . [and displayed a] liberalistic tendency especially as a result of the strong influence of socialistic international-minded Jews who wish to effect a general world citizenship without founding it on genuine nationalism."

When Stellenbosch left NUSAS in 1936, the National Union was confined to the English-speaking campuses until 1945 when Fort Hare again applied for admission and was accepted.

The Nationalist Party, the parliamentary opposition from 1933 until 19 and since then the governing party, condemned NUSAS in terms not dissimilar to those used by the students of Grey University College in 1933. Through the years the stress of individual politicians altered, but NUSAS was always accused of being negrophilist, liberal, imperialist, socialist (and communist), cosmopolitan, English, Jewish and, obviously, subversive. There were times when NUSAS policy was ahead of white opinion in the country, and also times when students at the black colleges believed that they could work with their white peers. But far too often it was only because of the activity of pressure groups (both black and white) that more radical statements were made by NUSAS leaders. There was, however, a pervading feeling of self-satisfaction amongst students on the liberal white campuses, and a former national student leader, Neville Curtis, commented on the lack of perception of these young men and women:

After 1959 liberalism had established within itself a myth of moral impeccability that made it unable to see itself as an integral part of white racism, and of the white racist establishment. At the same time the myth of the common society precluded recognition of the real and actual divisions which apartheid was creating.

Read out of context, the point made by Curtis seemed to coincide with the criticisms made by SOYA and the far left in the 1950's. But Curtis started from different premises. He was critical of the new 'ideological liberalism' and wanted a return to 'the open-ended, essentially tolerant [and presumably, pragmatic] liberalism of NUSAS'. He stated furthermore that English- speaking students saw the need to maintain contact with the black students, but that the lecturers 'feigned not to know that they existed'. The conclusion he reached was that'... ideology had warped the real concern which had existed with regard to black education'. It was not a new radicalism that Curtis was espousing but a condemnation of 'the effort to cling to principle, and the elevation of 'idealism to adherence to fixed points'.

NUSAS could neither move away from liberalism, nor could it become a radical organisation. The continued attack on the organisation and on its leaders by the government precluded any possibility of NUSAS altering its liberal stance. It was an organisation under siege, and short of abandoning the movement, the leadership had to maintain the tradition of opposition to apartheid. On the other hand the bulk of the white student body looked forward to the positions of leadership, and of affluence, that they were being ; trained for. There was no possibility of a large-scale radical movement I growing out of the white student body. It was this realisation that led to the withdrawal of some of the more radical students from NUSAS in the late 1960's. Inspired in part by the world-wide student revolts, they were libertarian, anti-establishment, and also engulfed by the feeling that whites were irrelevant to the struggle they foresaw in South Africa. Some abandoned their studies, most refused to accept posts in NUSAS.

NUSAS was weakened by defections against radical Whites, and also by tentative moves by Blacks to form their own organisation, but they were given a lease of life in 1968 (and again in 1972) by sit-ins and demonstrations in Cape Town, Rhodes (Grahamstown), and Johannesburg. This only concealed the fragility of NUSAS, and the fact that conservative white opinion was being organised to oust it. After 1972 NUSAS was only a shell of its former self.

Action began at the University of Cape Town (UCT) when, early in 1968, Archie Mafeje, a former African student at UCT, was appointed senior lecturer in the School of African Studies.The Minister of Education demanded that this appointment be rescinded, and the University Council complied, although it protested against government intervention.

Over 1,000 students and many lecturers protested, and gave their support to some 200 students who staged a sit-in for nine days. On the ninth evening the demonstrators were raided by right-wing students from UCT and from the University of Stellenbosch. The police said they could not guarantee the safety of the sit-in in future and the campaign came to an end.

Students at all other English-speaking universities also protested over the 'Mafeje affair' and at the University of Witwatersrand they planned a march through the city of Johannesburg. This was forbidden at the insistence of the Prime Minister, and the students formed a picket line inside the campus perimeter, bearing placards: 'We have had enough!' They were attacked and assaulted by campus conservatives and students from the neighbouring Rand Afrikaans University and the (Afrikaans) Goudstad (Goldtown) Teacher Training College. The police confiscated placards and took the names of students in the picket-line. When a deputation of Witwatersrand University

students went to Pretoria, hoping to hand the Prime Minister a letter of protest, they were assaulted by students of Pretoria University. The demonstrations in Cape Town and Johannesburg started on 14 August 1968. On Saturday 24 August the Prime Minister issued a warning that, if the student protests had not ended by Monday, police would move onto the campuses. The protests had already been called off, however, and the students were back at lectures by 26 August.

It was only one month later that students at Fort Hare were also involved in a sit-in. This action was precipitated by the growing resentment of the students against the ban on affiliation to NUSAS. The students boycotted a leading Cabinet Minister and painted slogans on campus walls. Police intern gated senior students which led to a build-up of tension culminating in a sit' demonstration in September. This only ended when police moved in with dogs and teargas. The demonstrators were taken to the railway station and

sent home. Twenty-one students were rusticated for the year, although the' were allowed to take examinations off the campus. The rest of the student body were allowed to return, but only after they and their parents had sign declarations undertaking not to take part in any further demonstrations, and to refrain from any act of insubordination.

The SRCs at both Turfloop and Ngoye also claimed the right to affiliate to NUSAS, and students on both campuses gave their full support to the sit-in at Fort Hare. Although there is no evidence of any concerted student action, the college authorities banned a]l demonstrations. At Turfloop the Senate forbade a student statement of support for their fellows at Fort Hare, and the Minister of Bantu Education banned the application for affiliation to NUSAS. Those deemed to be behind the dissent were expelled.

Black Students Break with NUSAS

Through the period 1960-67 the black students fought the administration on the issue of affiliation to NUSAS. Every move by the Students' Representative Councils was vetoed by the universities. Student action was met by stern disciplinary counteraction, and a large number of students were expelled. In the light of Curtis's criticism (of student liberalism as being an integral part of white racism), and the even sharper criticism from the far left that coupled affiliation with 'collaborationism', this concentration on a campaign for membership of NUSAS needs explanation.

In seeking affiliation, the black students were demanding the right to associate with organisations of their own choice, and the more intransigent the government showed itself, the more determined the students seemed to become. There was, furthermore, little possibility of engaging in open politics and the students, confronted by Rectors and staff who were determined to (make the tribal colleges work, became engrossed in campus affairs. For a time it might even have seemed that there was an identity of interests between lack and white English-speaking students. Nevertheless the disparities between the position of the two racial groups must have been obvious. The white students were preoccupied with the whittling away of democratic rights: the Blacks' concern was to secure the most elementary of such rights. The white students did not often feel the need to take their political demands outside the campus: the Blacks were always conscious of the fact that they came from an oppressed majority, and they could not divorce the demand for national liberation from their own student demands. No matter how unpleasant the white students found apartheid, they could live outside the oppressive system; the African could never escape it.

Periodically the divergence of interest came to the surface. When NUSAS 'set up a Freedom in Society commission in 1969 to examine laws that infringed on human liberties, a black delegate asked pointedly: 'What is the use of an African talking about the erosion of freedom in South Africa? We have no freedom and one or two laws more or less make no difference to our situation.' There were also indications that some Blacks resented the paternalistic attitudes that they perceived at conferences. One student leader expressed irritation at the way meetings were white-centred: 'It does not help as to see several black faces in a multi-racial gathering which ultimately concentrates on what the white students believe are the needs of black students.'

The black university students were irritated; the pattern of South African discrimination was only too obviously being repeated at meetings. Nonetheless they continued to press for affiliation, because they too shared the liberal ideology of their white peers; and they too aspired to positions of (comparative) affluence after graduation. It was the realisation that they would not in fact get the posts they knew they deserved, that pushed them to more radical positions. They were demanding equality, and that drew them to NUSAS: the realisation that this equality could not be obtained in any alliance with NUSAS forced them to adopt new political solutions. The split was inevitable, but the reasons were 'felt', rather than understood.

 'Black Man, You Are On Your Own'

The most prominent slogan of the students, and of the student organisations in the 1970's was 'Black Man, you are on your own'. It acted as a rallying call on all the black campuses, and was incorporated into the language of those men and women, students and intellectuals, who espoused the philosophy of black consciousness. The slogan was an assertion of the right to independent organisation on the campuses, and was also a political statement of more general application. The young students were aware of the hiatus in their political lives following the banning of the ANC and the PAC, and they saw campus politics as only one part of the broader Fight that had to be taken up by the African people. Apartheid on the campus was inseparable from the genera; division of the country on colour lines as envisaged by the government, and campus organisation was only the prelude to building a national organisation.

Nevertheless the first step towards independent organisation occurred under conditions which indicate that the black leaders were most undecided on the tactics they should adopt. The precipitating factor occurred at the annual conference of NUSAS, held at Rhodes University in July 1967. At the conference, the black delegates were informed that the Minister of Bantu Affairs had decreed that, under the Group Areas Act, they were required to sleep in the neighbouring township, and could not be accommodated at the university residence. The student body, both black and white, were furious. The situation was exacerbated when the university Vice-Chancellor stopped all racially mixed social gatherings, and even forbade Blacks the right to take meals in the residence.

Many white delegates boycotted the official meals, and conference decided, overwhelmingly, to work for the abolition of racial segregation on the campuses. Despite the fact that NUSAS could not be held responsible for the Minister's decision, and despite the solidarity expressed by many whites, it was this event which led the black students to query the value of maintaining links with NUSAS.

A second conference was also scheduled for Rhodes University in July 1967. Some 90 delegates, more than half of them black, attended the founding conference of the ecumenical University Christian Movement. The new movement did mark a reversal from the now defunct Student Christian Association (disbanded in 1965), which had maintained a colour bar. Nevertheless, as at the NUSAS conference, the accommodation was segregated. Many of the accusations levelled against NUSAS in 1967 could equally have been made against UCM. The Christian Movement was also subjected to segregatory requirements - and like NUSAS protested, but was forced to comply. UCM could not change the structure of the country. The Whites tended to dominate the proceedings at the conference and were no more able to decide what was good for the Blacks than the leaders of NUSAS. There were, however, differences. The majority of delegates at the conference were black. The movement was Christian, and was furthermore allowed to exist on the black campuses, where it attracted a considerable membership. These factors, in varying degree, attracted the student leaders, as they explained in 1972:

The formation of the University Christian Movement in 1967 gave Black students a greater chance of coming together. Because of its more radical stance, and also because at that stage it had not developed a 'bad' complexion politically in the eyes of the Black campus authorities, UCM tended to attract more Black students to its conferences, and this opened channels of communications amongst the Black students. It is not at all clear what this 'more radical stance' consisted of, nor is there much evidence that students who were attracted to the UCM in 1967 wanted such a stance. Furthermore, if the students were satisfied with the programme and constitution of the UCM, it is not easy to follow the reasoning of the SASO authors of the 1972 document, when they continue:

Among the Black students, one of the most talked about topics is the position of the Black students in the open organisations like NUSAS and UCM. Concern was expressed that these were White dominated and paid little attention to problems peculiar to the Black student community . . . It was felt that a time had come when Blacks had to formulate their own thinking, unpolluted by ideas emanating from a group with lots at stake in the status quo.

It would seem, in fact, that there was a far more cogent reason for the students to work in the UCM in 1967. NUSAS activity was banned on all black campuses in 196727 and the move into UCM was an act of adroit political opportunism on the part of the black students! This supposition is borne out by the history of UCM presented in Black Review, 1972. After mentioning the banning of NUSAS, the account continues:

It was not surprising, therefore, to find that the constituency at the 1968 UCM Conference at Stutterheim was very different from the one at Grahamstown the previous year. The majority . . . were those whose ties with their particular denominations were weakening and who were therefore far less conservative theologically. It was at this conference that a black caucus was formed out of which grew SASO [the South African Students Organisation], the spearhead of Black Consciousness.

The UCM proved to be less useful as a political cover than the students had hoped. The police kept the members under surveillance, halls of residence were raided periodically and leading members were held for interrogation. Attempts were made by the authorities to discredit the organisation, and in 1969 the UCM was banned on black campuses after only two years' activity.

The black students had not broken sharply with NUSAS, and they sent delegates to the 1968 conference. Even when the Students Representative Councils of the black campuses met at Mariannhill in December 1968, and decided to form SASO, the NUSAS President was invited to attend the inaugural conference the following July. The President was unable to be present and the white students, seemingly unaware of the significance of the new movement, made little effort to prevent the split.

SASO is Born, 1969

The black students were by no means unanimous in their resolve to form a separate organisation. In a communique issued at the end of the 1969, conference those opposed to separation were quoted as saying: Any move that tends to divide the student population into separate laagers [camps] on the basis of colour is in a way a tacit admission to defeat and seems apparently in agreement with apartheid. In a racially sensitive country like ours, provision for racially exclusive bodies tends to widen the gap that already exists between races and to heighten resentment, and the student community should resist all temptation to do this. The majority however maintained that apartheid had already separated the communities, and that mixed organisations were farcical. They argued that an independent organisation would be more effective, and that black students owed their first allegiance to the black community. Even more crucially it was argued that it was the students' task to raise the level of consciousness of the black community 'by promoting awareness, pride, achievement and capabilities.' Over and above the assertion that Blacks had to organise alone, the leaders of SASO held that Coloureds and Indians were also black, and from the inception the Executive of the student body included members drawn from the Coloured and Indian campuses. Being black, as it was explained, was associated with a way of viewing the world, and not with skin colour.

This formulation, as will be shown later, led to a number of strange rationalisations. Many men of black skin were not considered black, particularly if they co-operated with the government. But Whites, irrespective of their political sympathies, were always judged by skin colour, and could never, despite their way of thinking, be 'black'. The new way of thinking demanded by the students was called black consciousness and was written into the preamble of the SASO constitution in July 1970:

Whereas, we the Black students of South Africa, having examined and assessed the role of Black Students in the struggle for the emancipation of the Black people in South Africa and the betterment of their social, political and economic lot, and having unconditionally declared our lack of faith in the genuineness and capability of multi-racial organisations and individual Whites in the country to effect rapid social changes ... do commit ourselves to the realisation of the worth of the Black man, the assertion of his human dignity and to promoting consciousness and self-reliance of the black community.

Some of the students who had opposed the formation of a new separate organisation had done so on the grounds that the university administration would not tolerate a black student federation, and in part their fears were confirmed. Statements from the Departments of Indian Affairs and of Coloured Relations declared that students under their control (at the Indian University and at the University of the Western Cape), would not be allowed to join SASO. Their statements asserted that the three black communities had nothing in common, either socially or culturally. But for reasons that still remain obscure, the administration at Turfloop gave SASO early recognition, and demanded only that the preamble to the constitution be altered. The Snyman Commission, appointed by the government to inquire into the disturbances at Turfloop in 1973, received evidence that the students had been urged by two former (white) rectors of the University to: '. . shake off the yoke of NUSAS and to establish their own organisation'. The government's intention, however, was not to replace one 'radical' organisation by another and, in the aftermath of confrontations between the students and the authorities, SASO was banned from all campuses except Ngoye in 1975.

The situation at Fort Hare was always difficult. SASO was discouraged from the beginning and student leaders were expelled because of the active role they played in the organisation. Here too, SASO was banned in 1975. The campus at Ngoye was the only centre at which SASO seemed to exist without friction between students and the Rector. In 1975 there was, however, a rival organisation which divided the students ideologically. For some time it looked as if SASO would be relegated to a subsidiary position, and it was only after the key opposition students graduated that the field was left open for SASO activists to re-establish their ascendancy. The UCM was banned on black campuses from 1969, but members of SASO retained individual membership and attended UCM annual conferences but the differences widened between white and black delegates. There was a 'shift in focus' in the discussions, and the issues became increasingly social and political. Many white students left the organisation and the churches which had supported UCM were estranged. By 1970 SASO members were proposing literacy projects and were espousing the cause of Black Theology.

This lay outside the perspective of the founding members of the UCM and, by 1971, the polarisation inside the organisation was formalised when it was converted into a federation of projects, or 'interest groups'. For the Whites there were White Consciousness and Women's Liberation sections, for the Blacks, Black Consciousness and literacy projects. The executive was converted into a consultative body for the four interest groups. In 1972 the UCM was dissolved and SASO took over responsibility for the literacy campaign. Black theology was an integral part of SASO's philosophy, and was accepted by all black consciousness groups as part of their overall world outlook. The UCM had helped shape an essential part of the programme of the movement which dominated black politics in the early 1970; and the Christian world outlook continued to play an important part in SA! and its associated organisations.


References:
• Baruch, H. (1979). Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt: Roots of A Revolution, London: Zed Press.