South African Student Resistance in the 1960–70s




In order to understand the historical moment that 2015 has constituted in the South African education system, Leigh-Ann Naidoo argues that we need to study the role of education in the anti-apartheid Black liberation movement in the 1960–70s. She looks more particularly at the South African Student Organisation (SASO) and its impact on Black Consciousness and education.

Naidoo Funambulist 1
Removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue on the campus of the University of Cape Town on April 9, 2015. / Photo by Leila Khan.

In South Africa, 2015 was understood by many to be the year when Black university students, critiqued the “post-apartheid” condition of universities, first through the #RhodesMustFall and later the #FeesMustFall protests. In so doing, they revisited the question of what the purpose and role of education was in redistributing power and knowledge after the fall of apartheid. Black students who were allowed into Historically White Universities experienced first hand the ways in which institutional culture, curricula and symbolism remained wedded to the racist colonial project that forged universities. While much has been written about this recent moment of student resistance, I have chosen an earlier moment of resistance and critique in the long history of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa to reflect on student involvement in revolutionary processes. The 1960–70s was a time when Black university students organized themselves into the South African Student Organisation (SASO). In addition to SASO being a Black student formation, they were resolutely drawing on the Black radical traditions of resistance from Negritude and Black Power, to African intellectual activists such as Julius Nyerere, Amílcar Cabral, and Kwame Nkrumah. They were (re)inserting the importance of “race” as central to understanding oppression. They did this while also critiquing the education system they were in the process of being forged by, and built an understanding of education as essential for liberation.