(en) Repression in S.Africa at University of Durban-Westville

Mon, 23 Jun 1997 17:14:06 +0100 (BST)

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African Left":


Repression against Comrades at University of Durban-Westville (South Africa)

THE FACTS On 17 June 1997 the Presidential Commision of Inquiry appointed to investigate the last three years of conflict at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) submitted a report which recommended the criminal prosecution of comrades in the Combined Staff Association (COMSA) and in the Student Representative Council (SRC). Three of these comrades are also part of the Durban Editorial Collective of the journal "Debate-Voices from the South African Left". In particular, the following comrades have been targeted for criminal charges including kidnapping, public violence, incitement to public violence, intimidation, theft of confidential documents and contempt to court: Regan Jacobus (COMSA member, now Vice-Principal at Technikon Natal) Prea Banwari (former COMSA chairman), Heinrich Bohmke (COMSA organiser), Ashwin Desai (COMSA member and sociology lecturer), Melissa McKay (SRC), Robert Malunga (SRC), Nhlanhla Ndlovu (SRC), Rajesh Choudree (COMSA chairman), Evan Mantzaris (COMSA member and university lecturer), Dumisani Ngcobo (SRC) Logan Naidoo (COMSA).

All of them, together with hundreds of other students, workers and staff have been suspended, banned, and prohibited from entering the campus, which is now closed. All the South African media have depicted COMSA as a clique of thugs, while it is a trade union organising 1.300 workers on campus out of 1.700! As a matter of fact, the main "crime" of the comrades in COMSA is their struggle against neoliberalism in the restructuring of the university, and their opposition to privatization, downsizing, retrenchments and flexibility. In fact, documents from the Commission of Inquiry leaked to the public have shown that the Ministry of Education had put pressure on the Commission itself in order to get the criminal charges for the comrades, thus getting rid of COMSA. In other words, the Commission was biased from the start to smash the student-staff-worker protest on campus by any means. This can then be defined as an act of repression. Not only: during the whole duration of the protests and the demonstrations the university administration has explicitly requested the intervention of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on campus to identify and isolate the leaders of the struggle. This, and the massive presence of private security vigilantes contributed to a massive militarization of the campus in the last three years. Many of the people here accused have been identified only on the basis of their membership of COMSA and of participation to its activities, while direct responsibility in the facts reported was not proved: a typical case of arbitrary charges for "associational crimes". What happened at UDW is a warning for the future; it concerns all those who are fighting for real university transformation and against neoliberal restructuring in South Africa, one of the countries where the opposition to neoliberalism is now strongest. In these days the South African ministry of education has released its White Paper on tertiary education; it is a clearly neoliberal policy document whereby the right to university education will be totally subordinated to market-related considerations. The repression at UDW indicates that the South African government is prepared to crush popular opposition to neoliberalism. For these reasons THE CHARGES AGAINST THE COMSA COMRADES MUST BE DROPPED. Comrades from COMSA need your solidarity. You can write to them at comsa@pixie.udw.ac.za ***COMBINED STAFF ASSOCIATION (COMSA) MESSAGE***: "The Union COMSA at the University of Durban-Westville has come under sustained attack from the Ministry of education. COMSA has been at the forefront of confronting the Ministry's attempt to force tertiary education to become a simple conveyor belt for a modernist economy. The neo-liberalism inherent in Minister Bhengu's various papers, policies and interventions has been exposed by COMSA at meetings, in the media at conferences and seminars. Now the other side of neo- liberalism, REPRESSION, has been used to silence COMSA and the SRC at UDW. A Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate unrest at UDW that took place in the context of financial exclusions and industrial action over the dismissal of ad-hoc workers last year. It was held in camera and not one student or workers participated in it labelling it a "witchhunt" from the beginning. Two of its three members were high- flying African National Congress hacks who inspired no confidence in either SRC or COMSA. We ignored all subpoenas and invitations to "inform" on our colleagues. The Commission's report detailed below is thus one-sided. It calls on the National Intelligence Agency, the Attorney general and the South African Police Service to intervene. Arising out of the report student and worker leaders have been suspended and banned from campus indefinitely. COMRADES, this is an attack crude and blatant. We have decided to fight back. This is the one campus where the Left had a mass base to operate from. The journal "DEBATE" had a home here. There is a fighting UNITY between workers and student leaders of every radical persuasion. Left thinkers and activists always had a ready platform under COMSA's umbrella. It was from here that workers in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries were guided in their own particular struggles against retrenchments, pollution and union-bashing. As COMSA, we want you to read the report which DAMNS us, to make up your own mind. Yes, COMSA has been a controversial, fighting union. We have disobeyed court interdicts and marched, occupied, demanded resignations, protested against privatisation and pursued demands for economic justice. It has been always difficult to fight disembodied concepts and so the individuals that have championed the corporatisation of our university have come under fire. They who have held power have weilded it against us with little mercy. You will read of horrible-sounding charges - marches, speeches, occupations - YES. All of our charges, barring one, are common purpose charges of the sort "You were in a crowd in which someone did X, and by being a leader of that crowd you thereby associated yourself with X". For what it is worth, we are willing to answer all charges in open court. What we cannot answer and will not apologize for is the Commission's REAL FINDINGS: that we are a highly effective (1300 out of 1700 workers are COMSA members) Union, quite unstoppable in our crusade against workplace flexibility, privatisation, out-sourcing, racism, secret services' intrusion, poor wages, cuts to benefits. It seems the state must intervene. We have never pretended to be angels, but are aghast that the Commission which so condemns anonymous pamphlets has seen fit to include one of its own (published by the Helen Suzman Foundation by an anonymous "academic") to make what is essentially a racist case against us. It is strange to see such an intemperate, vulgar and biting report from a group of Commissioners who, operating within bourgeois norms of "impartiality", should at least have taken care to "appear impartial". The Commission's report is an invaluable document, a clue along the road to neoliberalism and repression in our country. Examine this clue and put together your case against it. It is also a case study in the new battle lines being drawn crudely across the body-politic in South Africa. COMSA and the SRC (1996 and 1997) appeal for your help and solidarity in these difficult, yet strangely PROUD times ahead. We will be incommunicado for much of the time, scurrying around to keep our organisation going (we have just one agency shop in arbitration). We will rely on you all to send us advice, messages of support, and build consciousness about our condition at your unievsrities".

COMBINED STAFF ASSOCIATION, University of Durban-Westville -----------------------------------------------------------

Franco Barchiesi Sociology of Work Unit Dept of Sociology University of the Witwatersrand Private Bag 3 PO Wits 2050 Johannesburg South Africa Tel. (++27 11) 716.3290 Fax (++27 11) 716.3781 E-Mail 029frb@cosmos.wits.ac.za http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons/aut_html http://pluto.mscc.huji.ac.il/~mshalev/direct.htm

Home: 98 6th Avenue Melville 2092 Johannesburg South Africa Tel. (++27 11) 482.5011

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