Van Zyl Slabbert to present TB Davie Memorial Lecture

13 October 2003
Political analyst and businessman Dr Frederick van Zyl Slabbert will deliver the 40th TB Davie Memorial Lecture at the invitation of the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC). This will take place on Wednesday, October 15, in the Jameson Hall from 12h45 to 14h00.

Van Zyl Slabbert's lecture is titled Benchmarking South Africa's Transition and all members of the UCT community are invited to attend.

Thomas Benjamin Davie was UCT's Vice-Chancellor from 1948 to the time of his death in 1955. He is remembered not only for his wise guidance of the university's affairs during a crucial period of its development, but also as an ardent defender of the principles of academic freedom.

"He defined academic freedom as the university's right to determine who should be taught, who should teach what should be taught and how it should be taught, without regard for any criterion except academic merit," said Dean of Law, Professor Hugh Corder, chair of the AFC.

The years between 1948 and 1959 were pivotal for UCT and other South African education institutions. Successive governments had attempted to entrench segregation in education through legislation. The first such legislation dealing with universities, the Extension of University Act, No 45, was enacted by Parliament in 1959 and came into operation in January 1960. It ruled that no black person who was not registered as a student at any of the existing, historically largely white, South African universities could attend those institutions without the written consent of the responsible minister.

This draft legislation became the Extension of University Education Act and was vigorously opposed by UCT. In 1956 the UCT Council passed a resolution opposing, in principle, academic segregation on racial grounds. In June 1957 UCT staff marched through the streets of Cape Town to protest against the Act. UCT, together with Wits, contested every step the government took to place the Act on the statute book. Nevertheless, the Bill became law in 1959. (It was only in 1991 that the offending clause in the Universities' Act was repealed.)

In 1959 the students established the TB Davie Memorial Lecture to commemorate the work of this distinguished vice-chancellor.

"The TB Davie Memorial Lecture keeps before the university a reminder of its ethical duty to defend and to seek to extend Academic Freedom," said Corder.

As is fitting, the theme is always related to academic freedom and past speakers have included the late Edward Said, Walter Sisulu, Noam Chomsky, Wole Soyinka and Kader Asmal.

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