University’s covert activities helped to liberate SA

2010-09-17 00:00

THE greatest contribution made by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) towards South Africa’s democracy was the violence unrest monitoring during the turbulent period between 1987 and 1994.

The information provided showed that what was happening in KZN was not black on black violence but actions either orchestrated by the state or renegade factions within the state, Professor John Aitchison said at the Peter Brown Memorial Seminar at the local campus yesterday.

Aitchison said that without that information there may have been a very different South Africa today. The information gathered helped scupper the attempt to sabotage that transition.

He presented a joint paper with Professor Colin Gardner at the seminar which focused on opposition to segregation in the history of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The event, organised by the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives, highlighted the contrasting and contradictory role played by the University. Dr Vanessa Noble spoke on the appalling conditions that black medical students lived in at the Alan Taylor Residence situated right next to the oil refinery in Durban. Professor Suleman Dangor and Dr Goolam Vahed outlined the struggles of students who attended the segregated Salisbury Island University College and the University of Durban-Westville — popularly known as tribal universities. They described the impact of the Black Consciousness Movement and Steve Biko on the history of that struggle.

Speakers said that while the university made an impact with staff and student protest marches, the covert activities it carried out made some of the greatest contributions to the country’s liberation.

Aitchison said fellow speaker, David Hemson, who gave a history of opposition on the university’s Durban Campus, played a crucial role in the rise of the independent trade union movement.

Similarly the Wages Commission run by the National Union of South African Students from 1962 to 1981, played an important research role for the growing trade union movement.

Cosatu and the United Democratic Front (UDF) secretly used university venues for training workshops and research like the Surplus People’s Project did valuable work in documenting the widespread forced removals of people throughout the country.

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