Chapter 6 - Reform, Repression and Mass Resistance

The uprising of 1976-77 marked a watershed in political relations between the apartheid state and the dominated social groups. Henceforth, a combination of state restructuring of the previous terms of domination of the black population, economic recession, the political offensive of the nationally oppressed and the failure of the state to crush the extra-parliamentary mass opposition to apartheid would ensure that white minority rule, shaken, but still secure in 1976-77, would begin to be negotiated out of existence during and after 1990.

This chapter analyses the political, socio-economic and higher educational conditions of, first, the period post the Soweto uprising until the declaration of a country-wide State of Emergency in June 1986 and, then, the harshly repressive period of the State of Emergency until De Klerk's liberalisation measures of February 1990. The purpose is to highlight the terrain on which SANSCO moved and the conditions that shaped student mobilisation, organisation and activity. The focus is on all sectors of higher education - universities, technikons and teacher-training colleges - because from its inception SANSCO defined its constituency as all black higher students. Moreover, the concern is not just with black student representation in higher education but also with its gender composition. This is to lay the basis for an analysis of the representation of women in SANSCO and its relationship to women students.

‘Organic Crisis’ and the Demise of Apartheid, 1976-77 to 1990

From Soweto to the State of Emergency, 1976-77 to 1986

After the mid-1970s, the apartheid state was mired in a profound crisis. - conceptualised by Saul and Gelb as an 'organic crisis' because of the existence of "incurable structural contradictions" of an ideological, political and economic nature (1986: 11; 57). With respect to the economic dimension of the crisis two general points can be made. First, there was a crisis of capital accumulation which was related to crisis conditions in the world capitalist economy and South Africa's location Therein:

Its reliance on the export of minerals, particularly gold and agricultural commodities, and dependence on imported capital goods and technology.

Second, the racial structure of South African capitalism (narrow home consumer market, skill shortages and so on), specific government policies, and the political offensive of the dominated social classes and groups contributed to exacerbating the economic crisis.

During the 1980s, the economic crisis continued and deepened. Whatever indices are used - economic output, unemployment, foreign debt, balance of payments, inflation and bankruptcies - the picture was one of severe economic problems. Output in almost half of the industrial sectors declined by 30%. As a result thousands of workers were retrenched during the 1980s and this coupled with a tremendous increase in compulsory liquidations and insolvencies added to the level of unemployment. Unemployment, structural in nature but increased by the recession, reached over 2 million with 25% of economically active Africans being unemployed.

Balance of payments problems and efforts to promote economic growth saw foreign debt increase from $16 billion in 1979 to $ 23,7 billion in late 1985, and from some 8.4% of GDP in 1980 to 26.8% of GDP in 1984. A concomitant sharp decrease in the value of the South African currency meant that there were problems with the repayment and servicing of foreign debt. With the international anti-apartheid movement intensifying the sanctions and disinvestment campaign, and foreign banks beginning to call in the greater part of South Africa's foreign debt, far-reaching measures had to be introduced to prevent the further collapse of an already ailing economy.

An additional feature of the South African economy during the 1980s was high rates of inflation. Already 14% in 1980, inflation spiralled to 20% in 1985. The adoption of monetarist policies by the government to check inflation intensified the recession. Not only did unemployment increase, but monetarist policies placed increasing burdens on black workers and the poor in general. Throughout the 1980s the cost of basic foods increased as subsidies were cut back. Living standards were further assaulted when a General Sales Tax (GST) was introduced on most commodities and reached 12% in 1985.

To decrease government expenditure the funding of black local government was cut back, with the result that local officials attempted to increase revenues through increased rental and service charges. This conjuncture of retrenchments, rising unemployment, inflation, increased rentals and service charges, and increased transport costs all combined to financially squeeze black workers and the poor and created the conditions for the worker and popular mass struggles of the 1980s.

The political dimension of the organic crisis was even clearer. For my purposes, a detailed analysis of the political terrain is not necessary. Instead, I will confine myself to outlining some of the important developments within anti-apartheid politics and a number of key features of political resistance during the 1980s.

1. The Soweto uprising and banning of SASO and other Black Consciousness (BC) organisations led anti-apartheid activists to debate the ideology, politics and strategy and tactics appropriate for the further prosecution of the anti-apartheid struggle. Ironically, the opportunity for leading political activists to debate political issues was  unwittingly provided by their detention at prisons like Modder B in the Transvaal. According to Diliza Mji, a past president of SASO, "opposing views which had been developing within the [BC] organisations crystallised within the cells of Modder B" . This was to result in a major bifurcation, in terms of ideology, political orientation and strategy and tactics, within radical anti-apartheid forces between those oriented to Black Consciousness, the Azanian Peoples' Organisation, the National Forum and the Azanian Manifesto; and others supportive of the non-racial tradition of the  ANC and Congress Movement, the United Democratic Front and the Freedom Charter.

In May 1978 the Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO) was established. AZAPO saw itself as a "bulwark against sectionalism by creating a united front" (SAIRR, 1980: 50), and aimed to "conscientise and mobilise black workers through Black Consciousness" and to "expose the exploitative and oppressive apartheid system" (Davies et al, 1984:  Vol.2, 308). According to Curtis Nkondo, the first president, the essential problem in South Africa was not necessarily a racial one but an economic one.... Words like race and colour have been used as an excuse to oppress and exploit the people.... We have to shift from the idea that race is the main issue. Race is used as an instrument of economic exploitation.

This thesis led to the formulation that "the worker is the vanguard of the organisation" . The category 'worker' was, however, not defined in classical Marxist terms. Rather,

[a] worker is a Black man and no White man is a worker. Blacks are workers because they are voiceless, exploited with no opportunity for advancement, and do not own the means of production and distribution.

While all whites were "part and parcel of the evil system, blacks are not", an exception was made for black bantustan leaders and collaborators who were classified as part of the "evil system".

These formulations were not dissimilar to the SASO categories of 'black' and 'non-white', though by incorporating the economic dimension they represented an attempt to generate a more rigorous analysis of South African realities. However, in terms of providing clear political direction they was bound to run into difficulties. Moreover, the affirmation of non-negotiation with state bodies and officials as a principle had serious implications for mass mobilisation around  immediate issues and the potential to remove AZAPO from the terrain of local-level community politics and organisation building.

If AZAPO represented one of the "opposing views" crystallising within progressive opposition politics, the other "view" gravitated towards the kind of politics that was represented by the Natal Indian Congress (NIC). The NIC had been part of the South African Indian Congress which, in the 1950s, had been an affiliate of the Congress Alliance  spearheaded by the ANC. Especially active in the NIC were a new generation of young activists who had cut their  teeth on the student politics of the 1970s. Espousing a race-class analysis, they argued that South Africa was characterised by both national and racial oppression and class exploitation. Drawing on the traditions of the Congress movement, they called for mass mobilisation and mass organisation and for a non-racial multi-class alliance under working class leadership.

The political manifesto advanced was the Congress movement's Freedom Charter which had been adopted at the Congress of the People in 1955. By 1979, the analytical framework and political and strategic goals and commitments of the NIC began to be shared by an increasing number of new organisations. The Congress of South African Students (COSAS), formed in May 1979, was from its inception guided by this approach. So too was the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU) which coupled a commitment to non-racialism in practice, with an emphasis on worker controlled trade unions and the leading role of the working class in the national liberation struggle. At the same time, local and regional-level community organisations orientated to mass mobilisation and struggle around immediate issues such as housing, rents, electricity, and transport began to emerge in various areas under the leadership of Congress movement activists.

During the late 1970s, the divide between the BC and Congress movements was not wide or rigid. Many individuals and organisations straddled the divide and only in later years would conflicts around principles and strategies cement  and harden. However, during the 1980s the BC movement came to be considerably over-shadowed by the Congress movement as its member organisations mounted impressive political and popular campaigns and resistance. These included the Release Mandela campaign of 1980, the Anti-Republic Day movement of early 1981, the Anti-South African Indian Council campaign of late 1981, and various local and regional-level struggles around civic and educational issues.

2. Crucially important, the mobilisations and struggles of the early 1980s around political, educational, and civic issues were frequently translated into enduring organisation. Spurred by the experience of struggles and facilitated by regionally-based community newspapers and local community newsletters which promoted grassroots mobilisation, education, and organisation, permanent local-level organisations in the form of civic, youth, students, women's, and progressive religious organisations began to mushroom. Increasingly, local organisations representing specific constituencies coalesced to form regional structures such as the United Womens' Organisation in the Western Cape and the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress.

3. During 1982-83 the government introduced new constitutional proposals which sough to incorporate Indians and Coloureds as junior partners in political decision-making. In addition, two bills were produced which "proposed new measures to control and regulate the presence of Africans in cities" (Lodge, 1992: 35), and the Black Local Authorities  Act of 1982 was passed which "gave the highly unpopular and frequently corrupt township governments a range of new powers and responsibilities" (ibid.).

In order to protest and frustrate these new state initiatives, anti-apartheid organisations launched two national formations in 1983. One was the Congress movement oriented United Democratic Front comprising over 500 decentralised, local and regional civic, youth, women's, political and religious anti-apartheid organisations, together  with national student organisations and trade unions. The other was the smaller National Forum, a loose association of some 200 BC oriented organisations and small left-wing groups. From 1983 onwards the UDF, as a popular, non-racial, multi-class alliance, was to be at the forefront of resistance to apartheid. UDF campaigns stimulated the formation of hundreds of new organisations, especially, and significantly, in the rural areas. Lodge captures well the character and significance of the UDF.

The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 was a turning point in this shift in the balance of power between the South African government and the black opposition. The UDF inspired an insurrectionary movement that was without precedent in its geographical spread, in its combative militancy, in the burden it imposed on government resources, and in the degree to which it internationalised hostility toward apartheid. The movement that the UDF headed was profoundly popular, infused 'from below' by the beliefs and emotions of 'ordinary people'. In contrast to earlier phases of black opposition, a class-conscious ideology was the essential motivating force among a large number of its rank - and- file activists. In this sense, it was a much more radical movement than any that had preceded it.

While at the moment of its birth the UDF undoubtedly borrowed from the traditions, symbols, iconography, and  ideology of the ANC, it expressed them with greater force and resonance (1992: 29-30).

4. The 1980s saw the continued growth of powerful trade unions among black workers. The economic conditions coupled with the work of trade union activists provoked hundreds of work stoppages and strikes. This facilitated the unionisation of black workers and helped strengthen the progressive union movement. Two strikes, that of members of the Food and Canning Workers Union employed at the Fattis and Monis company in Cape Town, and that of the Ford workers in Port Elizabeth, were particularly significant.

The former resulted in a fairly successful national consumer boycott of Fattis and Monis products, while both strikes generated strong support among other organised workers, black students, youth and township residents. The strikes and the worker-support campaigns built links between worker, student, youth and civic organisations, contributed to the growth and strengthening of organisations and ushered in a tradition of worker-student-community action and alliance. Also crucial during this period was the formation, in April 1979, of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) which linked together fourteen progressive trade unions.

During the early 1980s the policies of the unions towards participation in political campaigns differed. Some unions identified themselves as part of the Congress movement, drew explicit linkages between economic and political issues, and workplace and township-based struggles, and participated in various political and community campaigns. Others, after an initial period of participation in political campaigns, held back for strategic reasons, while the FOSATU unions refrained from any participation in political campaigns.

Although many of the unions did not fully subscribe to the ideology and politics of the Congress movement, there were important areas of shared commitments and concerns. Many of the unions endorsed non-racialism in practice and stressed, as a complement to township and education-based organisation, the building of strong workplace organisation under workers' control. The parallel, if uneven, development of the democratic union movement and the Congress movement was ultimately mutually reinforcing and at the same time set them apart from the BC movement.

In any event, by the time of the township uprisings of 1984 in the Transvaal against rent increases and corrupt local government, even the FOSATU unions began to be involved in joint actions with student organisations and civic formations. By late 1985, the Congress oriented unions, those that had held back political involvement for strategic reasons as well as the FOSATU unions joined together to form the half-a-million strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The alliance of COSATU and the UDF was to have a major impact on the direction and content of anti apartheid politics.

5. Lastly, if significant developments were taking place within internal radical opposition politics (as contrasted with external exile-politics), the ANC was not entirely incidental to this process. Invigorated by recruits from the uprising of 1976-77, and subsequent struggles, the ANC began to develop "a strong clandestine organisation in the country" (Stadler, 1987; 160). ANC members played an important role in the orientation of activists away from BC and in the  formation of a number of internal mass organisations.

From 1980 onwards, support for the ANC began to be openly expressed at mass public meetings, commemoration  services, funerals, marches and demonstrations. Especially during the 1984-86 period when mass resistance reached insurrectionary proportions and a peak, support for the ANC was widely and openly expressed. ANC leaders in prison and in exile enjoyed considerable popularity, and the organisation could legitimately claim a mass following.

The 'armed propaganda' activities of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), in the form of attacks on military facilities and apartheid establishments also contributed to enhancing its image, especially among students and youth. From 13 attacks in 1979, MK attacks increased to 136 in 1985 and 281 in 1989. (Lodge, 1992: 178). After 1985 MK also sought to root itself more firmly within South Africa, to train and arm local people and to give leadership and content to the ANC call to render South Africa 'ungovernable'.

Having sketched some of the developments within radical opposition politics, I want to now identify some key features of political resistance during the 1980s.

1. Tom Lodge, writing in 1983, concluded after a brief analysis of post-1976 political developments:

It should be evident that a qualitative transformation has taken place in African political life. The complex combination of social forces present in black resistance have succeeded in igniting a conflagration which no amount of repression will succeed in extinguishing (1983: 356).

Given the developments that occurred after 1983, this statement is almost prophetic. Certainly a 'qualitative transformation' did occur in opposition politics, as should be evident from the points made above, and as will be emphasised by the points below.

2. Since the mid-1970s, "the period of recuperation required before people returned to political struggles has shortened"  (Stadler, 1987: 1). Moreover, despite the massive scale of state repression.., oppositional activities generated and maintained a momentum entirely at variance with the pattern exhibited during earlier periods of intense conflict (ibid.).

Indeed, for much of the 1980s, economic and social conditions and unpopular state initiatives and diverse forms and levels of increasingly combative and confident popular organisation combined to produce, as almost a permanent feature of the political terrain, myriad struggles distinguished by differing content, form, duration, geographical and institutional location and spread, and the involvement of differing constituencies. State repression in the form of detentions, banning, restrictions on individuals and organisations, assassinations, declarations of partial and total states of emergency (1985, 1986 to 1990) and naked violence proved unable to dampen resistance for any extended period or to destroy the mass base of the democratic movement.

3. Political opposition during the 1980s was not confined to the urban centres but extended, significantly, into rural towns and the bantustans. Particularly oppressive conditions in rural areas failed to prevent the development and spread of mass organisations and the radicalisation of entire communities, and throughout the mid-1980s remarkably strong and resilient organisations emerged in rural towns and villages of the Orange Free State, northern and eastern Transvaal, and eastern, northern and southern Cape. The formation of organisations in the bantustans and opposition to  bantustan independence drew the bantustan regimes into the wider political conflict.

4. The focus of activism was the activation of popular grievances and mass mobilisation leading to mass organisation. Learning from the progressive trade unions, popular organisations emphasised democratic participation, decision-making and control. Attempts were made to create structured and effective links and co-ordinated and concerted action between local-level student, teacher, civic, youth, women's, religious and other organisations and trade unions. Such initiatives sought to activate and implement rent strikes, consumer boycotts, stayaways and other forms of action, and also, during the 1984-86 period, to establish organs of popular power in those instances where local state bodies had collapsed in the face of popular opposition. Inter-locking action, or what Price calls:

This insurrectionary process of catalysing, interacting and reinforcing forms of resistance emerged fully in the Transvaal during September-October 1984, and set a pattern which was to be repeated over and over again across South Africa in the subsequent twenty-two months (1991: 195).

5. Constructive, if heated debates, the formation of COSATU, and the political offensive of the mid-1980s contributed to a  reduction in tensions between so-called 'workerists' and 'populists'. Saul and Gelb suggested in 1981 that the simultaneity within the anti-apartheid struggle of popular democratic and proletarian moments could result in these two moments being "complementary rather than contradictory, each drawing out the progressive potential of the other" (1986: 241). Indeed, the 1980s revealed the complementary nature of popular democratic and proletarian politics; the two tended to reinforce each other, the strength of popular democratic assertions helping further to politicise the trade unions..., the growing assertiveness of the working class helping further to deepen the saliency of  class considerations and socialist preoccupations within the broader movement (Saul, 1986: 241).

6. During the 1980s there was also a growth of anti-capitalist sentiments and increasing support, especially among workers, students and youth, for socialism. While an emphasis on the leading role of the working-class in the South African national liberation struggle and a stress on the development of worker leadership within multi-class organisations was a common feature of many popular organisations, an explicit orientation towards some kind of socialist future became increasingly evident from the mid-1980s onwards. Moreover, the flags and symbols of the South African Communist Party (SACP) began to be openly displayed at political rallies, demonstrations and funerals of activists.

State Strategy in the 1980s

An "organic crisis" is normally resolved either through social revolution from below or "formative action" on the part of the ruling class (Saul, 1986: 211). "Formative action" for the preservation of ruling class hegemony entails more than merely defensive initiatives and involves considerable economic, political and ideological restructuring. The attempts of a ruling class to resolve an organic crisis, their "... incessant and persistent efforts... form the terrain of the conjunctural and it is upon this terrain that the forces of opposition organise" (ibid.: 57). Thus the conjuncture - the immediate terrain of struggle - is shaped not only by structural conditions, but also the various initiatives of capital and the state.

Although the apartheid state's restructuring had important implications for the form and content of opposition politics, it was less than fundamental in nature. Three broad aspects of the reform process can be identified. First, the reforms continued the old policy of divide and rule. A new constitutional structure, the tri-cameral parliament, which was racially divided and excluded Africans was to be the instrument for the incorporation (and co-option) of Indians and Coloureds into the political process. With respect to Africans, the aim was to establish a divide along urban-rural lines. Urban residents were to be provided certain concessions - an end to job reservation, greater opportunities for education and training, long-term housing leases - and politically incorporated through local government structures. Those designated as rural were to be stripped of South African citizenship and incorporated into bantustan political processes.

Second, the division of the African population along geographical lines was to be supplemented by initiatives to promote class divisions, and an explicit effort was to be made to foster the development of an African petty-bourgeoisie. Obstacles to training opportunities were to be removed, small businesses promoted and assisted, better housing built and petty discrimination eliminated. Considerable significance was attached to higher education in the creation of a black petty-bourgeoisie.

The aim was to produce a class of blacks who would have a stake in political stability and would "find their interests best served by an alliance with capitalism" ( Financial Mail , quoted in Davies et al, 1984: Vol.1, 39). Finally, the right of black workers to democratic trade unions was recognised, although at the same time legislation sought, through the institutionalisation of unions, to have greater control over them and prevent their involvement in political issues.

These attempts to:

Remodel political institutions, increase economic and educational opportunities for blacks, and institutionalise relations between capital and labour in order to generate some legitimacy for the social order (Stadler, 1987: 161).

Were double-edged. On the one hand, the reforms refined and reinforced controls in some areas and over certain categories of people, while concomitantly granting concessions to and attempting to co-opt others. On the other hand, state restructuring was dictated not just by economic imperatives but also by the political resistance of the dominated classes and groups. If the reforms were "formative" they were however being undertaken in areas and on terrain where the authority and hegemony of capital and the state was already contested and challenged.

Thus, the outcome of the 'incessant and persistent efforts' would be determined by the balance of political forces at both the general level and within specific arenas which were the object of restructuring. That is to say, the ability of state reforms to resolve contradictions, and their success in "controlling, containing, diverting and redirecting the pressures from below" (ibid.: 7-8) was by no means guaranteed. Given the gulf between the reform initiatives and the demands of the political opposition, state restructuring more often than not sharpened contradictions between the regime and the dominated classes and gave impetus to anti-regime political mobilisation. Indeed, as Lodge has written with respect to the economic recession and state restructuring of the 1980s, "the contradictions and tensions flowing from the interaction of these two forces helped to generate the black rebellion of the 1980s" (1992: 30).

The post-Soweto period however was not simply characterised by state reforms. An important plank of the state's post-1976 'Total Strategy' was also repression of forces threatening white supremacy. Consequently, during this period there was an increasing centralisation and militarization of the state, and a significant shift in power from the legislature to the executive, with tremendous power and authority located in the hands of the State President. Executive power revealed itself in the form of numerous cabinet committees, the State Security Council (SSC), and the National Security Management System (NSMS) with its regional Joint Management Committees (JMCs) and local level mini-JMCs.

The State of Emergency, 1986 to 1990

The SSC, NSMS and JMCs came to the fore during the mid-1980s as the government moved to systematically repress organisations and individuals deemed to be behind the popular insurrection. According to Price,

[u]nder conditions of widespread mass insurrection... the commitment to heightened repression was folded into a broad and systematically conceived counterrevolutionary 'security regime'.... The SSC was the 'brain' of the counterrevolutionary security regime, and its operational arms constituted the other basic elements of the NSMS... The far-flung network of... JMCs, each headed by a military or police officer, were the 'line organisations' of the counterrevolution - they were to adapt counterrevolutionary doctrine to particular local conditions and integrate repressive, socio-economic, psychological and ideological policies ‘on the ground'(1991: 252-253).

Under cover of a State of Emergency declared in June 1986 and renewed annually until June 1990, areas of militant political opposition were occupied by the military, over 29,000 people were detained, 32 organisations, including the UDF, were, in February 1988, placed under restrictions that prohibited them from being involved in almost any activities, and numerous activists were arrested and charged with treason for establishing organs of popular power in townships. In addition, anti-apartheid organisations and activists were subjected to physical attack from state-sponsored vigilante groups that engaged in murder, assassinations and the torching of offices and homes.

If the repression succeeded in ending the insurrection of the mid-1980s and dampening overt opposition, it failed in its objectives of 'winning the hearts and minds of people', addressing socio-economic problems confronting black communities and creating viable counter-organisations to those of the radical opposition. In any event, control over the opposition was less than complete. Workers in COSATU continued to strike around a range of issues and engage in stayaways, township residents continued to engage in rent strikes, consumer boycotts and to boycott local authority elections, and students continued to boycott classes around education-related demands. By 1989, despite the restrictions imposed on them the UDF and allied formations were once again spearheading mass campaigns and demonstrations.

The failure of reforms and repression, the continued vigour of political opposition and widespread support for anti-apartheid organisations and the liberation movements, and severe international isolation and little improvement in the economic situation all combined to provide the impetus for the South African government's announcement of February 2, 1990 which set into motion political negotiations for a non-racial democracy.

Black Higher Education: Expansion, Reform and Contradiction

Having outlined the conditions in the economic and political spheres which constituted the broader terrain of SANSCO's own initiatives, I want to now examine conditions within higher education and the processes that shaped this sector during the 1976-77 to 1990 period. The discussion centres around the expansion of black higher education after 1976 in the context of the concerns of corporate capital and sections of the state around skills shortages and the contradictions between reformist initiatives and conditions within higher education institutions.

The Economics and Politics of School Expansion

Between 1977 and 1985, African secondary school enrolments more than doubled while those of Coloured and Indian schools rose by 50%. Concomitantly, African students with matriculation exemption and school-leaving certificates increased by over 400%, Coloured students by over 90% and Indian by more than 100%, all these students being qualified to enter higher institutions for degree or/and diploma courses. The figures for the 1985 to 1990 period while not as spectacular as those for the 1977-85 period are still dramatic. Clearly, the impetus for expanding higher education enrolments was rooted in the massive growth of primary and secondary schooling. However, the developments in higher education cannot be accounted for in terms of processes internal to education alone; that is, the growth in pre-higher enrolments itself needs to be explained.

Bundy has argued that:

The spectacular growth in black schooling has two distinct causes. There has, first, been an explicit attempt since Soweto to upgrade education so as to stave off school-based rebellion. Government departments and big business alike have pumped very large funds into black education. This has been a crucial component of the strategy of fostering and coopting a black middle class (1986: 54).

However, as he acknowledges, secondly, education was already showing mass growth before Soweto. The impetus at this point was economic. The growth of the South African economy through the 1960s and into the early 1970s... brought about major structural changes in production and employment. A perceived 'skills shortage' was the topic of much reformist concern before and after Soweto (ibid.).

Bundy's thesis that economic and political imperatives explain the expanded school enrolments is a starting point. However, there is a need to investigate to what extent this holds specifically for black higher education, and to explore the relationship between the political and economic pressures. Moreover, it is also necessary to consider the initiatives of capital and/or the state within black higher education in attempting to secure their economic, political and ideological objectives.

Corporate Capital, the State and Skill Shortages

During this period a constant theme in statements by corporate capital and sections of the state was a lamentation about the shortages of skilled professionals and technicians and a call for the training of blacks in these occupations (Swainson, 1991; Kraak, 1989). It was commented in 1982:

From the Urban Foundation to Manpower 2000, from Anglo-American to Barlow Rand, the argument has consistently been made that unless South Africa's education system is restructured, 'economic growth' will not be maintained (Anon, Work in Progress , 21, 1982: 35).

Pressure for more skilled personnel also came from state departments like the health and postal services, stimulating a change in attitude to the training of blacks (Hartshone, 1986: 121). In 1980, the government-appointed National Manpower Commission stated that economic development could not be achieved by the recruitment of solely white high level labour-power and that "high priority would have to be given to increasing the participation of Africans" (quoted in SAIRR, 1982: 366). Although the government accepted this recommendation it reaffirmed that training of blacks would continue to take place at segregated institutions. From 1977 there was a considerable expansion in enrolments at black higher education institutions.

Capital's theme of skills shortages cannot be accepted at face value. Meth, for one, has questioned the extent of such shortages arguing that while shortfalls in scientific workers and engineers were serious during the boom years of 1979-81, in absolute terms numbers were small and the level of vacancies for managerial personnel low. The emphasis on training Africans betokened a political agenda, as the supply of skilled white women, Coloureds and Indians had not been exhausted (Meth, 1983: 196). Elsewhere Meth has observed about the theme of skills shortages:

It is obvious that... a persistent belief that there is such a thing, particularly a belief that such shortages are widespread, is likely ultimately to have important political consequences (1981: 1; quoted by Anon, Work in Progress , 21, 1982: 35).

Chisholm has argued that "the skills shortage is... partly a metaphor through which consent to restructuring is won" (1984a: 405). Restructuring in the form of the elimination of job reservation threatened the interests of white workers and the white petty bourgeoisie and, according to her, the theme of skills shortage appears to be used as a rationale for bringing about changes which cannot be brought about directly since various class interests are thereby threatened. These changes are nevertheless essential in securing the support of certain categories of blacks (1984a: 406).

It is clear that the theme of skills shortage incorporated the political aim of creating a black, and especially, African petty bourgeoisie. Even prior to the Soweto uprising sections of corporate capital and the liberal establishment were already asserting the need to develop a black middle class. Although at that time this was a minority opinion, post-Soweto "the notion of solving South Africa's problems through the creation of the 'black middle class'" gained popularity (Makalima, 1986: 41). By the late 1970s the interests of corporate capital and the state increasingly coincided on this. As Makalima puts it:

What started as an economic imperative to incorporate an increasing number of blacks into new petty bourgeois occupational positions... became a widely accelerated political imperative of capitalist reproduction linked to the prospect of creating a supportive urban black petty-bourgeoisie (1986: 38).

Statements on the theme of developing a black petty bourgeoisie abound. Dennis Etheridge, a previous executive director of Anglo-American and president of the Chamber of Mines, attempted to link the economic and ideological necessities. He argued, first, that in periods of economic upturn the absence of a pool of skilled personnel would force up salaries.

Moreover, "Blacks in senior positions" were better equipped "in dealing with the Black consumer" (Etheridge, 1986: 138). Given the analysis of the skills shortage this reasoning is not entirely convincing. Etheridge's second point is more pertinent. Noting "that the free enterprise system... is looked upon with great suspicion and even hostility by many Blacks (and)... is in danger of rejection in favour of something socialist", the lack of blacks in senior positions within business corporations meant that corporate capital was seen as "linked inexorably with the political system of apartheid" (ibid.). In this analysis the movement of blacks into high level jobs was crucial for ideological and political reasons.

The argument for training and employing blacks as middle and high level labour was made in many other ways. "Educated and experienced blacks" were reckoned to be important as intermediaries between capital and labour (Timber Manpower Representative, 1981; cited by Christie, 1985: 209). Judge Steyn of the Urban Foundation (UF) appealed for the involvement of capital in the UF saying:

I cannot see any thinking businessman declining to participate in South Africa's future through the Urban Foundation. His dividend will be the emergence of a black middle-class... the maintenance of the free enterprise system... [and] the survival of everything we hold dear ( Financial Mail , 11 March 1977; quoted in Frederikse, 1986: 59).

For government minister Piet Koornhof, "the level of progress of Africans in a free enterprise system should be so advantageous (and) revolution would hold such risks that Africans would fight against it" (quoted in Makalima, 1986: 60).These examples illustrate the reformist thrust of corporate capital and sections of the state. Black embourgeoisement was seen as important in fracturing black inter-class solidarity, widening the social base of adherents to capitalism and in creating an ideological and political buffer between the black working class and the ruling class.

One means of expanding the 'traditional' fraction of the black petty bourgeoisie was to remove obstacles in the path of trading and capital accumulation and to provide financial assistance to these sectors . However, the fostering of the 'new' petty bourgeoisie - trained professionals such as doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, teachers, and the like - was almost entirely dependent on higher education, and on expanded employment opportunities within state departments and large business corporations. The imperative to expand the new petty bourgeoisie was thrust onto the agenda of capital and the state by the struggles of students and the dominated classes between 1973 and 1976-77. This hastened the growth in black higher education which took place after 1977.

State and Capital Initiatives in Expanding Black Higher Education

Between 1976 and 1990 the state created numerous new higher education institutions, and also supported new faculties and departments at established universities. In 1976 MEDUNSA began to operate at Garankuwa, near Pretoria. Seven years later, VISTA University opened. VISTA comprised a complex of campuses which were located in various urban African townships but administered from Pretoria. The significance of MEDUNSA and VISTA was that they were urban campuses, and signalled the acceptance by the state of a permanent urban African population in the 'white' areas. However, they could also be seen as part of state strategy to enforce a divide between urban African residents and rural and bantustan African residents.

Between 1977 and 1983 campuses in the bantustans, initially developed as satellites of existing African universities, were transformed into independent institutions resulting in the universities of Transkei (1977), Bophuthatswana (1979), Venda (1983), and QwaQwa (1983).

Higher technical education also expanded. In 1979, the Mangosuthu Technikon opened at Umlazi, near Durban. The following year the Mabopane East Technikon began functioning near Pretoria. Both institutions were restricted to African students. Concomitantly, the Colleges of Advanced Technical Education (CATEs) for Coloureds and Indians were upgraded to technikons. Again, significantly, the new technikons for African students were located in the 'white' areas. Finally, a couple of new teacher-training colleges for Africans were built in the urban areas.

From 1977, increasing numbers of black students at universities, technikons and teacher training colleges received state bursaries and loans. In 1977, 8,278 black students at universities and teacher training colleges received state bursaries, which meant that 67% of all Coloured students and 86% of Indian students at teacher training colleges were funded by the state (calculated from SAIRR, 1978: 464-65). By 1982-83 the total number of black students receiving state bursaries rose substantially:

4,560 state-funded bursaries were awarded to African university students, 2,880 bursaries to Africans at teacher training colleges, 3,573 awards were made to Coloured students and 2,271 to Indian teacher-trainees. State bursaries to Africans alone in 1982 amounted to R4,6 million (SAIRR, 1983: 421-22). In 1989 state funding for bursaries for Africans at higher education institutions reached R15 million, while an additional R14 million was spent on bursaries for Coloureds and Indians (SAIRR, 1988/89).

Corporate capital (including foreign-owned multinationals) also began to intervene in, and make large donations to, black higher education after 1977. This was a largely new phenomenon and took three different forms. First, pressure was applied on the state, either directly or via organisations like the Urban Foundation and the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), to modify policies on black higher education. Calls were made for all universities to be placed under a single state department, for greater autonomy to be granted to black institutions, for admissions policies to be determined by educational institutions alone, and for greater provision to be made for black technical education and the upgrading of teacher qualifications (SAIRR, 1980-1985).

Second, corporate capital entered into a partnership with the state, largely on the latter's terms, to provide more facilities at higher education institutions. Notable examples were the Soweto Teachers Training College which opened in 1977 and the Mangosuthu Technikon, both financed by the Anglo-American Corporation and De Beers Chairman's Fund but run by state departments. Large donations were made to already-established institutions to facilitate black student access and promote particular subjects like business management.

For example, in 1985 substantial support was given by corporations to the University of Cape Town (UCT) for the establishment of the Centre for African Management to train and develop black managers (RSA, 1985: 814). In 1986 the Gold Fields Foundation provided R 1 million to Stellenbosch University for hostel accommodation for black students (RSA, 1986: 159), and in 1990 low interest loans for hostel accommodation were made available to Peninsula Technikon and the University of Western Cape (UWC) by a mining corporation.

Third, corporate initiatives to provide bursaries for black students expanded and increasing amounts of money were allocated for scholarships, administered either by business corporations directly or by higher education institutions and bodies like the SAIRR. Programmes offering black students scholarships at overseas universities were also initiated or expanded. For example, in 1979 United States business corporations established the South African Education Program which made available scholarships tenable at American institutions. Considerable donations were made by foreign-based multinationals in the late 1980s. Mobil made annual grants of R 1 million from 1987 for scholarships to black university and technikon students. In 1987 the US-based Kellogg Foundation gave R 2 million for bursaries to black undergraduates at universities (RSA, 1987a: 10). The Ford Foundation made annual grants from the late 1980s to black post-graduate students who were employed as research assistants.

For much of the 1980s, then, the vast majority of black students at teacher-training colleges, large numbers of teacher-trainees at universities, and considerable numbers of university and technikon students received either state or private bursaries. In detailing the reformist interventions of corporate capital and the state within higher education it is not taken as a given that these initiatives necessarily succeeded. Restructuring is neither automatic nor unproblematic, and is the object of struggles both within the dominant classes, and between the dominant and dominated classes. Restructuring frequently generates contradictions, new conflicts, and new spaces for mobilisation and political activity which opposition organisations can harness in constructing an alternative hegemonic project to that of the ruling class. The terrain on which capital and the state intervene may also be occupied by progressive forces and organisations.

Indeed, after 1977 a number of local progressive student organisations, as well as SANSCO, were active on higher education campuses and could have mediated the interventions of corporate capital and the state. Although black higher students constituted a social category rather different from the mass of the black population who were predominantly workers or unemployed, they shared with other black dominated classes a common experience of national oppression. Of course, individual black students experienced the effects of political oppression and capitalist exploitation differentially, the extent and intensity of their experiences being related to their social class origins and position within South Africa's system of racial classification.

After 1976 the number of first generation students from working class families began to expand tremendously; for example, by the early 1980s some 90% of students at UWC were from such families (O'Leary, 1986: 10). For students from working class backgrounds, low wages for parents, unemployment, inadequate housing, poor transport services and poverty were lived experiences. African students were not exempt from influx control legislation and pass-book harassment, nor unaffected by forced removals and the stripping of South African citizenship from those deemed to be citizens of 'independent' bantustans. These realities have a bearing on the form and content of student actions, particularly when combined with conjunctural struggles on the political terrain and in the factories, townships, and schools.

Black Enrolments at Universities

As Table 1 indicates, during the period 1977 to 1990 the numbers of black university students increased tremendously.

Table 1: 'Racial' composition and distribution of students by type of university, 1977 to 1990
Yr.RaceType of University







% Dis.








--42.6 --












6 320















% Dis.








--35.8- -



























% Dis.



































% Dis.








-- 44.4 --




















(Sources: Collated and compiled from SAIRR 1978: 522; 1980: 54; 1982: 507; 1986: 400-01; 1992: 222-23). [Notes: *Excluding Fort Hare; # excluding Venda]. [Abbreviations: Afr. = African; Bstan. = Bantustan; Col. = Coloured; Dis. = Distribution; Ind. = Indian; Tot. = Total; Whi. = White; Yr. = Year].

Between 1977 and 1985 total enrolments more than tripled, and then increased by some 77% between 1985 and 1990. Student numbers at all the black universities rose rapidly though at African institutions growth was particularly spectacular:

Between 1977-1985 enrolments increased five-fold and then almost doubled again between 1985 and 1990. However, one institution, VISTA, accounted for 45% of enrolments in 1985 and 58% of enrolments in 1990. Many of the students at VISTA were teachers registered part-time for secondary teacher diploma and certificate courses. A notable shift began to occur in the distribution of students between the different types of universities with, in proportional terms, a pronounced move of students from the distance institution UNISA to residential institutions in the bantustans, as well as to the other black and white universities.

Finally, an important new, and primarily post-1985, phenomenon was the increasing entry of African students into universities previously reserved for Coloureds and Indians. By 1990, barring the African residential universities, UWC and UDW had the largest enrolments of African students. At UWC, African students constituted almost 28% of the student body (UWC, 1990). A reverse movement of Coloured and Indian students to African campuses was virtually non-existent. Significant was the decline among Indian students of enrolments at UDW and their marked movement into the white universities. A similar pattern of movement to the white universities, although with no decline in enrolments at UWC, was also evident among Coloured students.

Since SANSCO operated at the white English language universities there is a need to examine more closely the representation of black students at these universities. Moreover, to determine whether the attitude of the state to the entry of black, and especially African, students changed over this period it is also necessary to analyse the 'racial' composition of black students. Numerically, black student representation at the white English-language universities more than tripled between 1977 and 1985, from 1,968 students to 7,412, and then almost doubled during the following five years to reach 13,847. At each of these universities, black students began to constitute a sizeable sector of the general student body - between 13% and 25% in 1985, and between 22% and 36% by 1990. This meant they had the potential to assert pressure on university administrations and shape the form and content of educational and political struggles on these campuses.

Although African student numbers increased and began to constitute a larger percentage of the total black student population at the white English-medium institutions, for much of this period Indian students continued to predominate at these institutions. The reason for this is partly historical:

Previously entrance controls to the white universities were more stringently applied against African than Indian or Coloured students. Thus, African student representation at these universities began from a much smaller base. As fees at these institutions are considerably higher than at the black universities, the greater numbers of Indian students may also be related to the class and income structure of that 'racial' group.

However, most important is the manner in which the state continued to deal with African student applications for permission to study at the white English-language universities. Whereas in 1981 92.2% (1,126 of 1,221) of Coloured and 88.1% (924 of 1,049) of Indian students received permission to enrol, only 48.0% (667 of 1,391) African students were allowed entrance. In 1983 the rejection rate of Africans became even greater: only 36.6% (954 of 2,605) of applications were approved while the consent rates for Coloureds and Indians were 91.5% (1,255 of 1,371) and 78.8% (1,323 of 1,679) respectively (SAIRR, 1984: 461). It is possible that the greater approval rate of Coloured and Indian student applications was related to the new constitutional dispensation which sought to co-opt these groups.

Finally, there was a gradual enrolment of small numbers of black students at the Afrikaans-language universities and at the dual-medium University of Port Elizabeth (UPE). In 1977 some 9 black students were registered at Potchefstroom and Orange Free State for post-graduate and theology courses. However, during the 1980s, both numerically and in percentage terms, the representation of black students at the Afrikaans-language universities and at UPE was minute. By 1990, the vast majority were concentrated at just three institutions:

At UPE - 675 students or 13.9% of the student body; at Stellenbosch - 755 students or 5.3% of the student body; and at the Rand Afrikaans University - 564 students or 6.2% of total students. It was at these institutions, and especially at UPE, that black students could possibly have constituted a viable political force.

However, creating this would have been immensely difficult given the conservative disposition of most white students at these universities.

Black Technical Training

A similar pattern is shown in relation to enrolment's of black students at technical training institutions (Table 2).

Table 2 : Student enrolments at black residential technikons and white technikons, 1977 to 1990
(Sources: SAS 1986: 5.67-5.72; SAIRR, 1988: 463; 1992: 218). [Notes: * Includes 1149 African students; # includes 1144 African students; ** includes distance education students]. [Abbreviations: Inst. = Institutions; Enrol. = Enrolments].

Four notable developments occurred during the 1985-90 period. First, there was a large increase in black student enrolments at the black residential technikons. Second, black students began to enter technikons previously reserved for whites. Thus, by 1990, 3,822 black students (1,616 African, 1,583 Coloured, and 623 Indian students) were enrolled at white residential technikons. Third, the pattern of considerable African university enrolments at UWC and UDW was repeated at the technikons previously designated for Coloureds and Indians. By 1990, African students comprised 23% of the student body at Peninsula Technikon and 19% at ML Sultan. Finally, large numbers (by 1990, some 7,900) of African students began to enrol for technikon courses through distance education (SAIRR, 1988: 463; 1992: 218).

Despite increasing black enrolments, advanced technical training continued to be concentrated among whites. During 1981 white students comprised 85% of all technikon students. By 1990, if black distance education enrolments are taken into account, white students constituted 64.5% of total technikon enrolments. As in the case of the poor representation of black students in science and technical fields at universities, the major problem was the poor quality of mathematics and science education within black schools. In addition, because of the previous job reservation policy of the state, higher technical training was severely undeveloped and only expanded during this period. Consequently, black student numbers began to rise from a very small base. Apart from offering commercial, secretarial, para-medical, surveying, science, and engineering courses, the technikons also began to train technical teachers for secondary schools.

Black Teacher-training

Between 1977 and 1990 the trend was towards a considerable expansion in the numbers of Africans and Coloureds at teacher training colleges. Amongst all groups there was also a shift towards registrations at universities for teacher qualifications. Thus, enrolments at UDW rose from 813 in 1978 to 1,225 in 1983, and among African students university based teacher-training enrolments expanded from 559 in 1978 to 2,925 in 1983 (SAIRR, 1980: 505-07; 518; 1985: 667-68; 679). The expansion of teacher-trainees at universities was most likely related to the demands of both corporate capital and school students for better qualified secondary school teachers.

Although throughout this period both teacher training colleges and students continued to be predominantly located in the bantustans, the provision of new facilities in the 'white' areas meant that an increasing number and percentage of students began to be located at colleges in the urban African townships.

The Representation of Black Women in Higher Education

Historically, black women were poorly represented at universities and technical colleges and were concentrated in teacher-training and para-medical courses. This trend continued in the 1980s, except at universities like VISTA which, by offering part-time education degrees, attracted a large number of women teachers. Table 3 shows however that the numbers of black women at universities increased both absolutely and proportionally over this period. The numbers of women at teacher training colleges also increased, especially among Africans. While the proportion of African women teacher-trainees increased slightly over the 1977 to 1990 period, the proportion of coloured and Indian women teachers declined.

The numbers of black women at technikons increased tremendously although women continued to be considerably under-represented within this sector. Moreover, women tended to be concentrated in particular fields. In 1982, 61% of Coloured female students and 57% of Indian women were registered for secretarial and commerce courses. At technikons 75% of African women were registered for secretarial courses or health sciences.

Table 3: Enrolments of black women in higher education by 'race', and their representation as a proportion of their 'racial' group, 1997 to 1990


2,902 (26.7%)

1,060 (22.3%)

1,819 (25.6%)
8,131 (39.9%)

2,523 (30.9%)

3,942 (33.7%)
19,025 (44.1%)

4,721 (36.5%)

7,236 (41.8%)






200 (17.5%)*

522 (23.9%)*

902 (29.5%)*
609 (22.6%)


939 (30.7%)
5,318 (36.7%)

2,232 (39.1%)

2,305 (43.3%)


10,388 (63.4%)

3,154 (72.0%)

547 (61.8%)
9,213 (64.2%)

2,546 (61.6%)

861 (60.7%)
10,335 (55.3%)

2,939 (52.1%)

910 (61.7%)
22,987 (64.2%)

4,780 (60.1%)

1,012 (58.6%)
(Sources: Dreijmanis, 1988: 113-19; RSA, 1987: 5.63; 5.70-5.72; RSA, 1993: 5.46). [Notes: #: African teacher-training enrolments for 1977 exclude Transkei; for 1981, Transkei, Bophuthatswana and Venda; and for 1985 and 1990 all the 'independent' bantustans. * Technikon figures are for 1982]. [Abbreviations: Afr. = African; Col. = Coloured; Ind. = Indian; Tech. = Technikons; Tetr. = Teacher-training; Sect. = Sector; Univ. = Universities].

In summary, the statistics in this chapter show the extent of the expansion in enrolments at higher education institutions. This quantitative increase was a key part of the state and capital's reformist strategy to create a black middle class. But implementing this strategy was a more complex matter than merely expanding enrolments. Expansion, as will be seen, was accompanied by contradictions and contestations around the control and administration of universities, student conditions, and political issues.

The Administrative Control of Black Institutions

After 1977 the structure of administrative control of higher education became extremely complex. Universities and teacher-training colleges in the 'independent' bantustans fell under the control of bantustan state structures. Universities located in non-independent bantustans, and universities, technikons, and teacher-training colleges for Africans in the ‘white' areas were administered by the Department of Education and Training (DET). Education departments of non-independent bantustans controlled all teacher-training colleges in their territories, as well as technikons and technical colleges.

The only exception was the Shikoane Matlala Technical College which, while located in Lebowa, was administered by the DET. Higher education institutions designated for Indian and Coloured students fell under the Departments of Indian and Coloured Affairs respectively. After the establishment of the segregated tri-cameral parliament in 1984 these institutions fell under the Department of Education and Culture of the House of Representatives (for Coloureds) and the Department of Education and Culture of the House of Delegates (for Indians).

Turning to the internal organisation of the black institutions, until the mid 1970s university councils were dominated by white representatives of the state, and senates were controlled by white staff. During this period, partly as a result of previous student demands for Africanisation, and partly to link universities more closely to bantustan and collaborationist Coloured and Indian political structures, there were changes in the representation and the powers of councils. Black Advisory Councils, which had no power, were abolished. Convocations were established at all black universities.

At the same time, the government began to place blacks, on a racial and ethnic basis, on the councils of the various universities. In 1977, the number of state appointees on councils was reduced from eight to four, senate representatives on council increased from two to three, and provision was made for a member of the convocation, and representatives of bantustan and Coloured or Indian collaborationist administrations. Councils now had the power, albeit with the concurrence of the minister, to appoint the rector of the institution, to admit students other than those for whom the university was 'racially' reserved, and to determine staff establishment. After 1975 black rectors began to be elected or appointed at some universities and technikons.

During the late 1980s, as a result of a combination of student and progressive staff struggles within institutions and mass struggles outside, progressive black rectors were elected at some of the black universities. Thus, although there was no change to the structure of the councils at these institutions, the political orientation of the councils was not pre-given. Councils were themselves sites of struggle and the mass struggles of the 1980s impacted upon them. The changes that followed the appointment of progressive rectors, the most dramatic being at UWC which sought to become the 'intellectual home of the left', created a new terrain for student organisation and the form and content of student actions.

At Fort Hare, space for change was created by the coup in Ciskei during 1990. Students, academic staff and workers used this space to eject the previous conservative administration from office. A new university council was ushered in, and according to the Democratic Staff Association at Fort Hare its main task was to continue to transform the decision-making processes of the university - for instance challenging the composition of university committees. The committees still reflect the racial composition of the Senate where only four out of 48 members are black ( UDUSA News , September 1990: 2).

As will be seen below, the predominance of white academics was not unique to Fort Hare.

Conditions at Black Higher Education Institutions

M.O. Nkomo has noted that:

The institutional/administrative, physical, social and academic environments within a university constitute or produce an empirical reality that influences student attitudes and behaviours (Nkomo 1984: 3).

Thus, it is necessary also to focus on the lived conditions of students within their immediate institutional settings since these conditions contributed to shaping the form and content of student activities, struggles and demands.

From 1977 the state made physical improvements to black universities and instituted new academic faculties and departments. However, many of the long-established inadequacies of black higher education institutions altered little. Students compared the academic facilities, range of degrees and courses offered, quality and content of teaching, student facilities and other features of black institutions with those for whites and found theirs to be generally wanting.

A simple examination of library facilities is revealing. A valid comparison can be made between the black universities established in 1960-61, and the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) established in 1968. One would expect the former to be better stocked, being older institutions. However, by the mid-1970's RAU's library contained 195,000 volumes, while the libraries of the black universities each held between 67,000 and 84,000 books (Human Sciences Research Council, 1976: 277-87). The position changed little during this period. Marcum writes of the University of North library that "of its approximately one hundred thousand volumes, many are obsolete or, otherwise useless - including dated and poor quality rejects from other libraries" (1982: 42). His comment on Zululand University library in relation to that of RAU is even more illuminating:

After more than twenty years, its library contains less than one hundred thousand volumes in contrast to the three-hundred-thousand-volume, automated library of the much newer Rand Afrikaans university (ibid.).

After 1982, decreasing government expenditure on universities meant that the book buying capacity of universities was reduced and these initial inequalities were not rectified (WUS, 1989).

At black universities, academic staff were predominantly white. In 1985, only 99 academics (31%) at UWC, 366 (32%) at African universities, and 147 (41%) at UDW were black. (SAIRR, 1986: 400). In 1986, whites comprised 87% of staff at MEDUNSA, 82% at VISTA, 65% at Fort Hare and 51% at UNIN (File, 1990: 10). At the African technikons over 90% of posts were occupied by whites, while at teacher-training colleges under DET and the non-independent bantustans 52% of teaching staff were white (DET Annual Report, 1982: 130, 1983: 253; 1984: 235). Black staff tended to be concentrated on the lower rungs of the staff hierarchy. Since senates of universities comprised largely senior staff, white staff dominated academic decision-making. I highlight the racial composition of staff since, in the context of racial oppression and privilege, the dominance of white personnel may become an issue of conflict, particularly if such personnel support the existing social order.

From their inception, for reasons related to the separate development programme of the National Party and strong state control, black higher education institutions tended to be staffed by Afrikaner nationalists and white conservatives. This continued to be a feature of these institutions during this period. For example, it was reported that at UNIN:

Approximately 65% of the white academic and administrative staff support the Hersigte Nasionale Party... (and)... Conservative Party. The university's academic registrar is... a Broederbond member... and a member of the education committee of the South African Bureau of Racial Affairs ( SASPU Focus, July 1982).

Even the Black Academic Staff Association at UNIN, by no means a radical body, felt obliged on one occasion to comment that the registrar's attitude "consistently reflected his arrogance and impatience which borders on contempt and lack of respect for blacks" (ibid.).

An additional problem was the content of many of the arts and social science courses offered at black universities. With few exceptions, the dominant orientation was conservative or, at best, liberal. Radical social theories and writing were largely ignored. The generally conservative course content was related to the fact that academic staff were predominantly graduates of the University of South Africa and Afrikaans-medium universities, both known for their conservative orientation. Thus, critical investigation and discussion was non-existent and academic freedom was extremely limited. Liberal UNIN staff complained that there were "considerable controls on teaching.

The use of enlightened methods and course content is met with strong opposition from those who effectively control the campus" ( SASPU Focus , July 1982). Such controls often led to frustration and the resignation of liberal and radical academics. Given such conditions, and the racial structuring of higher education, it was not surprising that black students continued to refer to the black universities by the derogatory phrase "bush colleges". However, by the end of the decade, through student and staff struggles, the influence of more progressive administrations, and the entry of progressive academics, some changes in teaching and course content were evident at certain black institutions.

Conditions in the majority of teacher-training colleges however altered less dramatically. The poor facilities and poorly qualified staff of Bophuthatswana colleges during the late 1970s may be taken as an indication of a general phenomenon (deClerq, 1984: 37). Conditions were little better by the end of the decade (Nkomo, 1991). Finally, although African technikons were newly built Chisholm has suggested that they were poorly staffed and had limited facilities (1984b: 15). These conditions generated many student grievances. To add combustion, expanding university enrolments strained existing facilities at some institutions resulting in large classes and limitations being imposed on course options. There were also problems with student accommodation and transport at some institutions. At many institutions the quality of catering and food in hostels was a widespread grievance.

On top of poor material conditions, institutions were characterised by authoritarian control and lack of student representation. When SANSCO was formed in 1979, only one SRC, with limited autonomy, existed on a black campus. At most black universities, and particularly at technikons, teacher training colleges, and bantustan-based institutions, the democratic right of students to autonomous SRCs and independent student organisation continued to be denied. At VISTA University, no student organisation could be formed without the permission of the University Council. Students were barred from contacting or joining any organisation not recognised by the council, and prior approval had to be obtained to distribute any publications (World University Service, 1986: 8).

The repressive conditions on many campuses were underlined by security guards policing entrances to universities. Such security often harassed student activists and interfered with student activities. At the University of Transkei, student and lecturer allegations of harassment were corroborated when the director and deputy-director of security services acknowledged that they were "involved in surveillance and harassment of students and lecturers" (UDUSA News, September 1990: 1). They also admitted that they had strong links with the South African police and Transkei security forces.

Many university and college administrations frequently summoned the riot police at the slightest sign of student opposition and throughout the 1980s students were whipped, baton-charged and tear-gassed by police on campus. Between 1986 and 1989 the University of the North came under military occupation by the South African Defence Force. A curfew was imposed, soldiers invigilated exams and raids on student residences were common (WUS, 1989). In 1989, three students were killed by the army during a protest against the continued military occupation of their campus. It was under such conditions that progressive democratic student structures had to be established and had to survive.

Very different conditions obtained at the white English-language universities. Liberal administrations meant that student structures (NUSAS, SRCs, student newspapers) enjoyed greater space for their activities. Apart from NUSAS and some SRCs playing a progressive political role, left-wing groups like the Wages Commissions, Students Action Movement (Wits), Students for Social Democracy (UCT), and women's movements were also active. On some campuses small numbers of black students participated in such groups, and/or conducted their activities through Black Students Societies. There, then, conditions were more conducive to black student organisation and to student action.

As a consequence of the reformist objectives of corporate capital and the apartheid state, and particularly the goal of creating a black middle class, black higher education expanded tremendously during the 1976-77 to 1990 period. New institutions were established and the numbers of black student in higher education increased dramatically. However, the poor conditions on many black campuses, authoritarian controls, the repressive measures of administrations and security forces and the broader political context contributed to a general disaffection among black students.

This created fertile conditions for student formations like SANSCO to mediate the initiatives of capital and the state, project alternative agendas and to raise alternative demands. Of course, not all students at black higher education institutions were politicised and took part in anti-apartheid struggles. Contradictory forces continued to work on students. One such force was SANSCO, and it is to its initiatives and actions, its impact on students, and to its character, role and significance that I now turn in the following four chapters.

D. Mji, in AZASO National Newsletter , November, 1983.

Z. Sisulu, "Nkondo spells it out"; feature article, Sunday Post , 7 October 1979.

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