Whose History of UCT? 1948 – 1968

UCT under APARTHEID: PART 1 – From ONSET to SIT-IN – 1948–1968 – hereafter UUA By Howard Phillips – 2019. Fanele, Auckland Park, South Africa. An imprint of Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd. ISBN  978-1-928232-85-8  In UUA’s Foreword, UCT Vice Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng emphasizes that “academic...

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University of Cape Town UCT

UCT under APARTHEID: PART 1 – From ONSET to SIT-IN – 1948–1968 – hereafter UUA

By Howard Phillips – 2019. Fanele, Auckland Park, South Africa. An imprint of Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd. ISBN  978-1-928232-85-8 

In UUA’s Foreword, UCT Vice Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng emphasizes that “academic space is one of different views, which can lead to controversy, disagreement and resistance” and there is a “need to uphold and exercise the freedom to examine ideas and what they mean”. This review attempts to follow the VC’s guidelines vis-à-vis UUA


UUA claims to be “a holistic, multisided examination” “which tries to give a voice to a wide range of historical actors”. However, the next sentence states that it will “avoid” a “one-dimensional, prof-down, administrator-centred view” and students’ views will not be left “offstage”. Those of “old academics long forgotten” will not dominate. UUA also emphasizes that, in addition to recounting aspects of UCT’s history for which ‘She’ may be “proud”, it will show that, like German universities after the Nazi Era, UCT must account for “segregationist baggage” for which She should be “ashamed”.

UUA ‘delivers’ differentially on these ‘promises’. The views of students – especially single and small numbers of radical, left wing, revolutionary, anti-apartheid activists who clashed with UCT’s leadership – take centre-stage in evidence presented and conclusions reached. Shameful “baggage” features much more prominently than matters meritorious. Finally, UUA departs from the strategy employed in Philips’ ‘Formative-Years tome that covered 30 years and the full regimes of VCs. Phillips cuts off UUA at 20 years, ending at an event – the 1968 Mafeje Sit-In – that occurred during the first few months of VC Sir Richard Luyt’s 10-year administration. He justifies this approach because:

  1. he only had ready access to key archives up to 1989;
  2. “adequate” historical “perspective” on later years is “still lacking”; and
  3. that it is “still too close” temporally “to provide an adequate assessment” of post-1968 UCT. 

This justification seems incongruous since:

  1. the Luyt Era ended in 1980; 
  2. much positive and progressive development and VC-led resistance to apartheid occurred during the balance of the Luyt Era; and
  3. there is considerable published ‘adequate perspective’ available in prominent scholarly books and articles in respected academic journals, much of which is provided by post-1968 UCT VCs and other key players in UCT’s history.

Tellingly, in UCT-sponsored lectures (here and here) showcasing UUA, Phillips focuses on “fraught relations” at UCT during “embattled times”, effectively promoting the highly controversial view of UCT as institutionally “entrenched” with racism and burdened by a “divisive legacy of colonialism” that needs to be “erased”.

With regard to VCs, TB Davie (1948-1955) is depicted as a potentially militant, anti-apartheid hero. Achievements of this ‘principled-principal’ were undermined thereafter by ‘two-faced’ and ‘untrustworthy’ VCs Duminy (1958-1967) and Luyt (1968-1980) backed by UCT’s Bloedsappe Council. These ‘Quislingapologists of apartheid, collectively “kowtowed” to the Government and “colluded” with the Regime vis-à-vis its “unfolding” racial discrimination. Protesting students were principled, ground-breaking, radically-thinking, reluctant, aspirant revolutionaries committed to destroying apartheid and commemorating the memory of UCT’s pivotal nefarious events (e.g. the Mafeje ‘Affair).

Running UCT

UUA-UCT was controlled by an autocratic VC, Senate and Council presided over by a titular leader – the tough-minded”, “old fashioned”, “Cape Liberal”, “old boy” Chancellor Justice Centlivres, succeeded by Harry Oppenheimer, another “old-fashioned conservative” described later as “mercenary and hypocritical

TB Davie is UUA-described as: ”well fitted”, widely supported, boyishly enthusiastic, charismatic, rational/kindly, tactful, skilled negotiator, “gutsy and supportive”, judicially firm, team builder/leader, skilled fundraiser, student nurturer. In 13 words it summarizes a 1950 speech, in which Davie ‘nailed’ his and UCT’s academic principles and multi-racial socio-politics to the mast. A more comprehensive account of Davie’s ‘Doctrine’ follows:

Universities should be populated by “those fitted by ability and training for higher education” … “aiming at the advancement of knowledge by the methods of study and research founded on absolute intellectual integrity and pursued in an atmosphere of academic freedom”. They must have the autonomy to decide:

  1. who shall teach – determined by fitness and scholarship and experience;
  2. what we teach – the truth and not what it is demanded by others for the purposes of sectional, political, religious or ideological dogmas or beliefs;
  3. how we teach – not subject to interference aimed at standardization at the expense of originality; and [most importantly]; and 
  4. whom we teach – [individuals] intellectually capable and morally worthy to join the great brotherhood [sic] which constitutes the wholeness of the university”. 

He went on to say that the university community should:

    1. reflect the multi-racial picture of the society it serves;
    2. give a lead to the cultural and spiritual development of the different race groups as part of the developments of the community as a whole;
    3. aid the state by providing training for and maintaining standards in the learned professions and public services; and


  • serve the community in the true sense of the university, i.e. as a centre for the preservation, the advance, and the dissemination of learning for its own sake and without regard to its usefulness, to all who are academically qualified for admission, irrespective of race, colour, or creed.”  


UUA refers to draft notes for a lecture to students prepared “as apartheid tightened its grip on the country” that suggest that: “staff and students [might] rise up in arms if freedoms [were] threatened”; “the university is dead where the students fail to fight for these rights”; and “he who pays the piper calls the tune only if he knows what tune to call”. Simply said, those who believed that they ‘knew the right tune’ could militantly challenge those who threatened their “freedoms”. This position is reinforced by a Davie-comment given in conversation at an event held just before he died: “I will fight this. I will not give in.”  

JP Duminy is UUA-described simply as the first VC without an academic doctoral degree. In fact, he was a distinguished B.Sc. and M.Sc. SAC/UCT graduate in Applied Mathematics and Physics. Thereafter, he was a Rhodes Scholar, obtaining a post-graduate degree at Oxford specializing in Mathematics. During 1924-1957, he served with distinction as a lecturer, professor, dean and principal at the University of Pretoria and/or Pretoria Technical College (now Tshwane University of Technology). Nevertheless, UUA-Duminy was a: farm-born “anglicized Cape Afrikaner”, paternalistic racialist, “Headmaster”, “sententious” (moralizingly pompous), “less deft” – than Davie, conventional/standoffish/stiff/formal/disconnected, traditioned-bound Christian, “tip-toe in character”, non-listener who was a “standard-bearer of Western civilization”. UUA evidence comes from:

  1. some “frustrated”, “politically aware” students who claimed that Duminy lacked a “plan or ideology”;
  2. an apocryphal pamphlet entitled ‘Yellow Duminy’ – deploring Duminy as a coward; and
  3. a quote depicting Duminy as “at best … a second rate” applicant for the post of VC.

Duminy was also treated particularly harshly in a pre-UUA-UCT-sanctioned lecture that describes him as a “reactionary aberration” who treated students like “schoolchildren” and made “no effort to protect them”.

With regard to Duminy’s lacking a “plan or ideology”, UUA fails to cite, let alone discuss, Duminy’s 1961 booklet, South Africa’s dilemma: what is the way out?. In this key document, Duminy outlines his views on race, universities and political ideology in detail. Duminy backed up these words with action, e.g. by sending reading matter and food to – and visiting – anti-apartheid activists during their detentions.

More disturbingly, UUA concludes that, from 1964, Duminy’s views and actions/inactions became “increasingly insipid” and moved “further to the right”. In fact, Duminy’s administrative strategy ‘evolved punctuationally’ – not quantitatively, coinciding with the arrest and conviction of a small number of UCT staff, alumni and student members [whom Duminy initially ardently defended] of the revolutionary, left-wing African Resistance Movement (ARM) for bombing key Cape Town facilities and detonating an explosive device in a railway station. The ARM terror attack killed a grandmother, permanently disfigured the face of her 12 year-old granddaughter and injured 21 other innocent civilians. The unrepentant ARMist terrorist went to the gallows singing ‘We Shall Overcome’. Many other ARMists were betrayed by former UCT student and academic and ARMist founder member Adrian Leftwich – a past Students’ Representative Council VP and President of NUSAS. Leftwich capitulated to and collaborated with Security Police. After a brief “roughing up”, he ”spilled the beans and testified against ARM cadres. His traitorous actions are outlined in detail in his UUA-unmentioned/uncited essay I Gave the Names.

ARMist activities and Leftwich’s behaviour aided the Apartheid Regime, giving widespread ‘credibility’ to its views that the kith-and-kin of UCT, its SRC, the Liberal Party and NUSAS were the ideological “offspring of vipers”, and UCT and Duminy were “extremely weak and not capable of giving students direction”. At the other end of the political spectrum, the Trotskyist Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM) smeared Leftwich as an untrustworthy”, ‘gutless’, “herrenvolk liberal”. The ‘grateful’ Apartheid Regime allowed Informant Leftwich to emigrate – without any jail-time – to England, where he had a successful academic career for nearly four decades 

UUA portrays Leftwich:

  1. holding the “Torch of Freedom”;
  2. as a “left-leaning”, “disillusioned”, “liberal-turned-radical” “yearning for action”;
  3. as “convicted” of sabotage, and 
  4. only reluctantly “resorted” to it use.

Leftwich was “convicted” of nothing and ardently supported and conducted sabotage. Unlike genuine, anti-apartheid ‘martyrs’ (e.g. Steve Biko, Rick Turner and Neil Aggett), he had not resolutely pursued non-violent moral/intellectual resistance to Apartheid and readily betrayed fellow activists. In short, he precipitously incited and perpetrated fruitless violent and destructive ‘protest’.

The strict/formal/tradition/peace-loving Duminy could not countenance ARMist sabotage/terrorism, let alone contemplate changing his ideas about how UCT’s structure and society could be adapted to violent radical leftist views. Those willing to hear more of Duminy’s views on African/Afrikaner nationalism, apartheid and partisan politics, assess his character sensu lato and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of UCT at that time from another perspective should look out for the soon-to-appear biography of JP by his son, Prof. Andrew Duminy, an eminent South African historian. Sadly, Phillips appears not to have followed this strategy.

UUA-Sir Richard Luyt was like Davie personally and ideologically. VC Stuart Saunders provides a more balanced micro-biography of Luyt on pages 78-81 in his Memoire. Luyt was not a professional academic. He was an academically undistinguished UCT and Oxford graduate. From the late 1930s until his appointment by UCT, he served with distinction as a soldier and senior officer during WWII and a British colonial administrator. He played avital rolein the political and economic decolonization of Africa and, recommended by Kenneth Kaunda, was appointed Governor of British Guiana. He dealt firmly and fairly with riots, strikes and other disturbances stemming from racial, social and economic conflicts and shepherded the colony to independence – culminating in his knighthood. 

Like Duminy [a Springbok cricketer distantly related to Jean-Paul Duminy], Luyt was sportsman who valued tradition, fair-play and the rule of law. He was a devout Christian, accomplished diplomat and good communicator with a sense of humour. His “boyish enthusiasm and optimism” and “outgoing personality” “brought peace to the University”. He “restored dignity to the office [of VC] and to the University” and was an “unwavering friend of students”, revoking an attempt to impose a proposed new constitution on the SRC that would have undermined its authority. He ended the vestiges of Petty Apartheid and Duminy’s over-formalized administrative style and resistance to mixed-race socialization; and reversed Duminy’s repeated refusal to be an honorary vice-president of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) because of its inappropriate political connections. After his retirement, during the turbulent 1980s Luyt “stuck his neck out” for anti-apartheid students, supporting the End Conscription Campaign. So much done by someone described as a ‘’kowtower’.

Teaching, learning and research

Teaching at UCT continued to be a largely formal, muffled-monologue, ‘podium-centrifugal’ and textbook didactic. A noteworthy academic exception was Harold ‘Jack’ Simons, “one of the greatest teachers of the 20th Century” who “posed hard questions and drew everybody into the debate”. He was multiply-banned by the Regime and forced to leave UCT in 1965. 

Research at UCT, on the other hand, flourished, especially during the Duminy/Luyt administrations. It ‘exploded’ on to the international stage and currently is on par with that of the best universities in the world. 

I end this section with a quote from Regime-banned/exiled Sir Bill Hoffenberg vis-a-vis the excellence of UCT’s Faculty of Medicine: “If I were sick, I am sure that I would rather be treated here.”

Chapter 9, Reaching out: UCT and the wider community, describes how UCT’s achievements in this arena and refusal to participate in apartheid-related celebrations effectively eliminated remaining connections with the Afrikaner community and polarized relations between anti-apartheid activists and liberals/conservatives – especially parents of students.

Chapter 10, Colliding and Colluding – UCT and the Apartheid State, sets the scene in the first sentence, stating that UCT carried “not inconsiderable segregationist baggage”, despite the fact that, by 1959, 12.4% of students were nie-blanke – more than five times that in 1948. The ‘real baggage’ was “unspoken”, “informal”, “invisible” race-based “social segregation” [vis-à-vis e.g. UCT-sanctioned sporting clubs and dances] that had persisted since Her beginnings. UUA condemns “sanctimonious” Chancellor Centlivres’ view that the benefits of academic non-racialism “outweighed” social baggage as “decked out” apartheid and a “shabby compromise”. 

In fact, during the Davie Era and in the early ‘Duminy-days’, there was little attempt by the Government or UCT Executive to discourage social integration, hoping that students would “evolve” in this direction without any social engineering. However, by the time Duminy took office, this laissez faire strategy was untenable. Apartheid had become legally ‘crystalized’ and hyper-aggressive white supremacy was implemented by an unfettered militarized, skop, skiet en donder, ‘security’ force and a totalitarian bureaucracy. When pressed to take a position on using on-campus, ‘racially’-integrated dancing to “spearhead” challenges to the Regime, Duminy was ‘crystal clear’: “Ballroom dancing has no place whatsoever in the fabric of a University … It would be totally unfair, inappropriate and illogical to expect the University to fight a battle [with the Regime] on a ground which is completely foreign to its function.” In the end, the Government chose to bureaucratically resolve the university race ‘problem’, “regardless of the cost”, by creating “separate ethnic universities”, legally enshrined in the Extension of University Education Act, Act 45 of 1959 (EUEAct). In short, ‘ethnics’ replaced ethics

Chapter 11, Learning in (and out of) Class: Student Life, characterizes student demographics as: growing rapidly, owing to an initial large influx of liberal WWII veterans – without noting that many were members of the anti-apartheid Torch Commando who mass-protested long before the ANC and PAC. What UUA also doesn’t mention was that, even within a somewhat “barren” political landscape, UCT students were still exposed to a broad spectrum of ideas and ideologies with which they could strongly disagree. Instead, it presents unsubstantiated comments from four students who identify as “depressed”, “suppressed”, “only tolerated” “outsiders” who struggled to exist in “enemy territory”. 

The ‘first’ Mafeje ‘Affair’

The 1968 Sit-In at Bremner Building ‘emanated’ from UCT’s Council rescinding an offer of an academic post to anti-apartheid struggle icon Monwabisi Archibald ‘Archie’ Mafeje due to a threat Luyt received from Minister of Education Jan de Klerk (baaskap Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s brother-in-law). that the Government “would not hesitate to take such steps as it may deem fit to ensure that the accepted traditional outlook of South Africa was observed”. Mafeje was not to be appointed because he was a “bantu” and an alleged “subversive” who had cut his political teeth in the NEUM tradition”.

Monica Wilson (here and here), ‘champion’ of Mafeje’s candidacy, and Mafeje’s sister [after being harassed by ‘security’ police] also wrote to him exploring the possibility that he consider declining the offer and not return to South Africa. Mafeje refused to comply.

In the end, Council voted narrowly and reluctantly to rescind the offer. UUA portrays this as “blatant kowtowing”, ‘flagrant injustice” and doing “the Government’s foul work”, “trigger[ing]” the Sit-In. UUA further maintains that the Sit-In was a Critical Event in UCT’s history and the culmination of a gradual, decade-long, cumulative, series of antagonistic altercations at UCT. It was not

It fact, the Sit-In was a spontaneous, unplanned, extemporaneous and impromptu product of moral outrage fostered by the prevailing mass-meeting culture. It was driven by a need for quick emotional satisfaction vs reasoned choice, ‘triggered’ by an electrifying, last-minute, speech by pro-Marxist  Raphael Kaplinsky – leader of the left-wing Radical Student Society (RSS). The RSS was strongly influenced by UCT graduate Rick Turner who promoted ideas of the New Left movement. Turner had recently completed a doctorate at the Sorbonne – the epicentre of European student protest. ‘Raphie’ incited students to emulate international student sit-in’s. [Kaplinsky later admitted that he did not expect the sit-in to last more than a few hours and SRC President Duncan Innes stated that “we made it up as we went along”.] 

The Sit-In quickly morphed into an internationally high-profile media event and a ‘teach-in’ featuring Turner et al.  However, ‘lectures’ did NOT focus on Mafeje’s rights as a black man, apartheid in general or the aggressive promotion of non-racialism. Discussion centred on concepts of student power, challenging UCT ‘autocracy’, and promoting the New Left. Indeed, Mafeje complained that the Sit-In was a “meaningless and futile farce” with his maltreatment by UCT being used by protesters to promote their own agendas. Sit-In participation fell off rapidly from 700 on Day 1 to about 120 by day nine. UUA‘s assertion that those involved in the Sit-In and future generations of students vowed to “make it clear that Mafeje would not be forgotten and the incident would be forever linked to the denial of academic freedom” is specious. UUA-unmentioned Mafeje-scholar Lungisile Ntsebeza maintains that: “By the end of the 1960s, the Mafeje affair had escaped the memory of virtually all sectors of UCT – students and staff who sat-in at Bremner building included”. Most of the Sit-In leadership dispersed from UCT within 18 months. Turner moved to the University of Natal [and like his collaborator Steve Biko was assassinated by the Regime] and Raphael Kaplinsky emulated Leftwich, leaving the country on a one-way exit visa for a successful academic career in England.

In fact, the second, protracted 1990s Mafeje Affair was a much more serious and arguably indefensible professional assault on Mafeje and a mega-piece of UCT’s shameful ‘baggage’ – hopefully to be covered in UUA Part 2. Mafeje became – and remained – angry and contemptuous of UCT because of Her failure to ‘mend fences’ during the 1990s and re-instate him as a UCT academic. Apologizing 25 years later for capitulating to the apartheid state was too little, too late.

Chapter 12 chronicles:

  1. UCT’s significant transformation into a world-class research university;
  2. changes in its black student population;
  3. further egress of Afrikaners, and
  4. the “brain drain” of brilliant academics and students who ‘Leftwiched’ or voluntarily sought careers in ‘Western Civilized’ countries rather than remaining governed by a ruthless government bent on crushing even token opposition.

Phillips concludes UUA by partially quoting an epigram by French journalist/novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: Plus ça change … “the more things change”. The epigram’s unquoted trailing words are: plus c’est la même chose – “the more they stay the same”. This passage as unjustifiably pessimistic. In fact, UUA implements a strategy employed by another influential French thinker, Cardinal Richelieu: “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”

Who’s who?

To answer the “whose history?” question in the title, UUA and the presentations sponsored by UCT’s Departments of Development and Alumni and Communication and Marketing to showcase it present a history of UCT that largely reflects unsubstantiated, utopian, views/opinions/fantasies? of a small, highly radical minority determined to challenge the Apartheid Regime by undermining UCT’s core principles and structures. Their modus operandi included defaming duly-appointed leaders (especially VC Duminy) who defended Her very existence as an enclave of anti-apartheid liberalism during a time when the Apartheid Regime was all-powerful, nefariously resolute, internationally economically and politically ‘bullet-proof’ and aching for an ‘excuse’ to destroy Her. Any ‘true’ history of UCT requires inclusion of a multiplicity of reliable sources and searching for unequivocal corroboration of ALL evidence that is available.

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