SRC history reflects nation in flux

26 May 2008

Pioneers: That first SRC. In 1962 Elizabeth Thaele, here with SRC president Roger Jowell, became UCT's first black woman head student. In 1974, 20-year old Laurine Platzky became the first woman to head the SRC.

Just over a century ago, in 1906, the UCT Student Representative Council was born and work is underway to celebrate the centenary.

Back in 1906, the new SRC ran the South African College's (SAC) newspaper and arranged student functions.

Just out of the starting blocks, the Great War of 1914 saw many students enlisting for service, and the SRC experienced a substantial loss in the number of students they represented.

On 2 April 1918 the legal tenure of the SAC drew to a close with the University of Cape Town taking the reins. The SRC was now positioned to attract much larger student volumes.

Many accounts of the SRC's accomplishments in the decades immediately after the Great War appear in Varsity, the university's student newspaper.

The edition of 6 May, 1943, details a mass protest by the SRC regarding the suspension of five students and the serving of fines, punishment for the theft of grapes from the Minister of Finance and Education, Mr JH Hofmeyer.

He owned the vineyards at the Woolsack Estate. Over 500 students attended the protest, voicing their dissatisfaction with the University's Disciplinary Council.

In 1944 Mr RA Lawrence, an Indian medical student, became the first black person to be elected to the SRC. Two emergency meetings were held by the SRC, which was deeply divided over the matter of "non-Europeans" occupying positions on the SRC.

In 1950 Varsity reports on organised meetings between various South African SRCs. The so called "non-European" universities, Sastri and Fort Hare, were not invited to attend. As a result, Wits and UCT did not send delegates to the gathering.

In 1953 two black students were elected to the SRC: science student Mr J Hlaba, and social sciences student Mr J Mutambikwa. In 1962 Elizabeth Thaele became the first black woman head student.

In the mid-1960s, the era of Martin Luther King, the SRC joined the Cape Town Civil Rights League, an organisation that protected civil rights.

Eight years later the SRC adopted a new constitution in which apartheid practice in clubs and societies within the university was prohibited.

In 1970, SRC president Paul Theron launched his door-to-door campaign against the Nationalist government. He believed it was criminal to stand by while the apartheid system prevailed.

Geoff Budlender, current chair of the UCT Council, held the SRC presidency in 1972. He rallied students saying the education system supported an unjust political system.

In 1974 20-year old Laurine Platzky became the first woman to head the SRC. She was followed by Sarah Cullinan in 1980.

The decades after 1970 were characterised by political upheaval as the SRC sought to mobilise students against apartheid. Many SRC members were arrested by security police.

In the watershed years after 1994, the SRC busied itself with transformation, launching their transformation campaign in the same year.

UCT will be hosting an SRC centenary celebration over 14-15 June. Watch this space.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.