Remembering Archie Mafeje and 1968

23 April 2007

Geoff Budlender, chair of UCT Council, was one of the students that protested - they occupied Senate Room in Bremner - the decision by the 1968 Council to back down on the appointment of Dr Archie Mafeje. Here he shares some thoughts on that occasion.

Archie Mafeje was not only a very distinguished graduate of UCT. He was also a pivotal figure in UCT's history, and in the role of the universities in the struggle against apartheid.

In 1959 UCT protested vigorously against the enforcement of student apartheid. The Chancellor led a march through the streets of Cape Town. Each year thereafter a commemorative protest was held - but it became ritualised.

In 1968 the University Council withdrew the appointment of Dr Mafeje, in the face of the government's threat to legislate to enforce apartheid in academic staff. UCT protested, but capitulated. Student anger led to South Africa's first sit-in protest. The week-long sit-in was a challenge to the comfortable rituals of formalised protest.

The sit-in challenged participants and the institution to confront apartheid, and to face what it meant to be a university in apartheid South Africa. For the participants, it was an intense learning experience about apartheid and resistance. It literally changed people's lives. And after the "Mafeje affair", the university itself would never again be quite the same place.

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