My entire student career at UWC was peppered with boycotts and student protests. Most were legitimate; some were for the fun of it, while others were completely lawless. As students we protested against all the evils of apartheid and some university regulations, which were often indistinguishable from those of the apartheid state. The political issues, however, were clear – white minority rule, forced removals, the group areas act, detention without trial, the pass laws and many others.
Academics and students were aligned on the big issues but often differed with each other on strategy and tactics. There were times when students were wilful, taunting the police who illegally occupied the campus and who never hesitated to use teargas, or even shoot. Whenever student leaders called for boycotts, often not agreed to by all constituencies, the vanguard would beat up fellow students, many of them women, across their faces and chests as a show of their commitment to the armed struggle.
There were times when buildings were burnt down, when offices of unpopular academics were vandalised and when the lives of some academics were physically threatened. One professor came to classes with a security guard. Some apartheid academics even received danger pay for risking their lives teaching us “natives.”
These were difficult times. Slogans such as liberation before education were easily bandied about. There were movements outside of the ANC that opposed these slogans prophesying that we would regret the day we tolerated such perilous utterances. And today we see the consequences of such idiocies in all their glory.
Watching the current student protests from afar, I am reminded yet again of the period between 1973 and 1990 and despite achieving much, we also have come to reap what we have sown then. I remember the many acts of sexual violence against women on the campus, and how top management at UWC explicitly refused to “call in the apartheid police to deal with rape”.
The result was an explosion of cases of rape and sexual violence based on the implicit belief that male domination was cultural rather than criminal. The establishment of a gender-sensitive tribunal put an end (at the time) to occurrences of sexual violence, as an attempt to hold the male leadership accountable for their actions.