Signs are changing with the times

25 August 2015

Quinn Slobodian, author of Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany, wrote of West Germany's "own #RhodesMustFall moment".

On the Africa is a Country blog, Slobodian recalled how West German students tore down monuments to colonial leaders Hans Dominik and Hermann von Wissmann that stood in front of Hamburg University in September 1967.

One of the first causes the "previously apathetic" German students championed was South Africa, at the time under the jackboot of the apartheid regime. This newfound consciousness, says Slobodian, was partly because of one Dr Neville Alexander, a student who had completed a PhD at Germany's University of Tübingen in 1961, and around whom his West German colleagues rallied.

Alexander, who had spent six years at UCT earning undergraduate and master's degrees, was to return to South Africa after the Sharpeville Massacre in March that year to oppose the political system. He soon raised the ire of the then National Party (NP) by involving himself with movements such as the National Liberation Front, which he co-founded.

UCT will hold an official renaming ceremony that will usher in the Neville Alexander Building to the space once called the Graduate School of Humanities. Signage has already been erected. A colloquium will also be held in the Centre of African Studies Gallery on UCT's Upper Campus, where the library will exhibit much of Alexander's writing.

Alexander established the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa at UCT in 1992, which he directed until shortly before his passing, and was an influential writer, notably on education and postapartheid language policy.

Before teaching sociology and education at UCT, which he commenced part-time in 1979, Alexander spent 1964 to 1974 jailed on Robben Island for his anti-apartheid activities. His book, One Azania, One Nation: The National Question in South Africa, remains a seminal rebuttal of the NP's take on 'race' and 'nation'.

The university will in due course announce details about officially renaming another of its buildings, the Arts Block, which is now called the AC Jordan Building, in memory of the pioneering black scholar.

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