National Union of South African Students

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The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) was an important force for liberalism in South Africa in the latter part of the last century. Their mottos included non-racialism and non-sexism.

This inevitably brought them in conflict with the Apartheid regime, which was arguably their most important political role in the organisation's almost seven-decade history, a feat that eclipsed the life of the racist National Party.

NUSAS was founded in 1924 under the guidance of Leo Marquard, at a conference at Grey College by members of the Student Representative Councils (SRC) of South African Universities. The union was made up mostly of students from English-language South African universities. Afrikaans-speaking leaders walked out between 1933 and 1936. In 1945 the students from "native college" at Fort Hare were admitted as members confirming the commitment to non-racialism after a period of indecision.

Early presidents of the organisation included Phillip Tobias elected in 1948, who presided over the organisation's first anti-apartheid campaign. The effort was mounted to resist the racial segregation of South African universities. Ian Roberston, president in 1966, was instrumental in inviting Senator Robert Kennedy to address South African Students [1]. Other presidents included, Jonty Driver, Paul Pretorius, Charles Nupen, Neville Curtis and Auret van Heerden.

Though the organisation stood for non-violence in their opposition to Apartheid, some former senior members were associated with the first violent anti-apartheid resistance group, the African Resistance Movement.

Despite their liberal resistance to racially separate organisations, its members, and in particular its leadership, supported the breakaway in 1969, of black student leaders, led by Steve Biko and others, to form the South African Students' Organisation (SASO), a Black Consciousness Movement student grouping.

This change left NUSAS somewhat marginalised in the political struggle of the 1970s, which was seen by many as a fight for the freedom of black South Africans. At this time there were many students at the so-called "white" universities who supported the organisation because of its anti-apartheid campaigns. Most of the English language universities (Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town (UCT), Rhodes and University of Natal) remained affiliated to NUSAS, which by the mid 1970s was the strongest body of white resistance to apartheid.

NUSAS having adopted the Freedom Charter, involved its members in non-racial political projects in education, the arts and trade union spheres. This confronted Apartheid on the streets and in both the local and international media, infuriating the Nationalist Party Government who cracked down on the rising student revolt on several fronts, in the mid-1970s. This in turn drew the battle lines, with liberals backing the non-racial, African National Congress (ANC) in their campaign against the repression in the country.

By the early 1990s South African students began to see the need to consolidate their efforts to finally rid South Africa of racist controls and to re-focus on education issues. NUSAS was merged with black controlled student movements into a single non-racial progressive student organization, the South African Student Congress (SASCO), in 1991.

Date: 2 July, 1991 - The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) dissolves during its 67th congress. - (SA History online).

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