Campus protest echoes 1987 student revolt against apartheid


TODAY’S student protest along Main Rd, Rondebosch, Cape Town, echoes similar student demonstrations during 1987. One incident in which a group of mainly white students were shambocked by apartheid security police, lead to mass unrest on campus. The University of Cape Town was closed down for days, as students staged sit-ins, and rubber bullets were fired by police in several incidents, which fell foul of censorship regulations under Botha’s state of emergency and were thus unreported, or not reported directly.

Campus vehicles at UCT were set ablaze by NUSAS and COSAS students protesting against the government of the day.

Students studying in Jagger library were shambocked by security police as the entire campus was teargassed. Helicopters flew overhead as lectures were boycotted.

Below campus, traffic ground to a halt, as yellow Caspirs filled to the brim with security police edged along De Waal Drive and Woolsack.

Almost three decades later, history appears to be repeating itself as student demonstrators move along Main Road, Rondebosch and into oncoming traffic, following yesterday’s incident in which several demonstrators were mowed down by a vehicle jumping barricades erected by students.

At Rhodes University, students have moved into their second day of campus-wide striking, reports student news website Activate.

“Marches which began at roughly 5am this morning made their way through campus much as they did yesterday, although participation levels were lower.

“Barricades have been reinforced, but in a turn of events the food trucks have been allowed onto campus thus meaning that students on campus will be fed.”

The Police invasion of the University of Cape Town’s upper-campus, occurred on 24 April, 1987 and marked the first time since 1972 that South Africa’s police services crossed a line separating the country’s ‘bush’ colleges and their predominately white counterparts.

When the South African Police’s riot brigade invaded the University of Cape Town’s upper campus. “Large parts of the University of Cape Town campus were at times uninhabitable … and some lectures were disrupted as a result of actions of certain people which may not be reported in terms of state-of-emergency press censorship,” read the article in the Cape Times the following day.

PW Botha’s apartheid government refused permission for the Cape Times to publish the full facts concerning the event. They also refused the newspaper permission to publish three photographs taken during the afternoon, including one of a burnt out South African Breweries vehicle.[1]

A four-hour confrontation between police and about 150-200 students followed a lunchtime meeting attended by about 700 students at which various members of banned organisations appeared and anti-apartheid slogans were chanted. Reference was made to “a non-racist, non-sexist, nuclear-free continent”

Not only were student activists involved in the revolt, but innocent bystanders were caught up in a stand-off between police and the administration, which resulted in lectures being cancelled and papers being lost.

The Cape Times, under the heading Clashes on Campus, published this heavily censored report on Saturday, April 25, 1987:[1]

“Large parts of the University of Cape Town campus were at times uninhabitable yesterday afternoon and some lectures were disrupted as a result of actions by certain people which may not be reported in terms of state-of-emergency press censorship.

South African Breweries suffered a R120 000 loss when a cab of one of their vehicles was burnt on the upper campus in the wake of a students’ protest march over the deaths of six railway workers and the dismissal of 16 000 others.

The government’s Interdepartmental Press Liaison Centre, last night refused the Cape Times permission to publish the full facts concerning the day’s events at UCT. They also refused the newspaper permission to publish three photographs taken during the afternoon, including one of the burnt out vehicle.

A four hour confrontation between the people who may not be identified and about 150 – 200 students followed a lunch time meeting attended by about 700 students, called to protest at the deaths and firing of SA Railway’s and Harbour’s Workers Union (SARHWU) on Wednesday.

As a result of the presence of several vehicles which may not be identified on De Waal Drive, a severe traffic jam several kilometers long developed on the highway and the Eastern Boulevard at rush hour.

The lunchtime meeting was addressed by SRC president Ms Carla Sutherland and a member of SARHWU from the Transvaal, identified only as “Comrade Jeffrey”.

Ms Sutherland read out a statement by the black staff of UCT in which the action against SA Transport Services (SATS) workers on Wednesday and Thursday was condemned in the strongest possible terms.

‘Comrade Jeffrey’ said he had come to the Western Cape to explain to SARHWU workers here what was happening in the Transvaal.

“What was happening may be shocking to you, but we are used to being shot at and killed by these people – the whites who work with us always carry their guns with them. They have shot at us and called us kaffirs in the past.””

References

  1. a b Cape Times, staff reporter, front page, Saturday, April 25 1987
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