Legacy of change

31 July 2007

From the beginning, the TB Davie Memorial Lectures have reminded the UCT community of its ethical duty to defend and to extend academic freedom.

The School of Education's Professor Johan Muller, Academic Freedom Committee chair, reminds us of the political milieu in which the memorial series came into being.

"The TB Davie Memorial Lecture was established by students and staff in 1959 during the dark days of apartheid. It commemorates the central importance of freedom in general, and academic freedom in particular. "Today the threats to freedom have shifted, and the state is no longer the threat it once was. Freedom nevertheless remains of critical importance for the unrestricted exchange of ideas and information, and history shows how quickly this can be endangered.

"The TB Davie lecture is therefore both a tradition to be proud of, and an opportunity for the university as a community to renew its commitment to freedom and academic freedom."

Guest speakers have come from around the world to add their thoughts, their lectures mirroring a society, continent and world in flux.

In 1959, former chief justice and UCT chancellor, Albert van de Sandt Centlivres, delivered the first lecture, grounded in a speech he delivered on the subject of academic freedom at the University Club and printed in the Rand Daily Mail two years earlier:

"I am not aware of any university of real standing in the outside world which closes its doors to students on the grounds of the colour of their skins. The great universities of the world welcome students from other countries whatever the colour of their skins. They realise that the different outlook which these students bring with them advances the field of knowledge in human relations in the international sphere and contributes to their own culture."

In 1961, intellectual activist and struggle icon ZK Matthews delivered the third lecture, titled African Awakening and the Universities. (The atrium in the Hoerikwaggo building, home to the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), was later named after him.)

By the time ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu delivered the 30th TB Davie Memorial Lecture in 1990, his title, The Road to Liberation, reflected a legacy of that awakening.

Guest speaker in 1999, Nobel-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, threw the spotlight back onto liberation, drawing attention to African's plight - a continent plagued by civil war - in his lecture, Arms and the Arts: A continent's unequal dialogue.

In the TB Davie Memorial Lecture last year, Professor Alan Charles Kors of the University of Pennsylvania in the US described the close relationship between academic freedom and human liberty.

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