National Union of South African Students

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National Union of South African Students (NUSAS)
Founded 1924
Dissolved 2 July 1991 (1991-07-02)
Ideology liberalism and radicalism

The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) was an important force for liberalism and later radicalism in South African student anti-apartheid politics. Its mottos included non-racialism and non-sexism.

Early History[edit]

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 Robertson, president in 1966, invited Senator Robert Kennedy to address South African Students.[1] Other presidents included, Jonty Driver, Paul Pretorius, Charles Nupen, Neville Curtis, Glenn Moss and Auret van Heerden.

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

Despite its liberal resistance to racially separate organisations in the 1960s, 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.

Turn to radical apartheid opposition politics[edit]

The SASO break-away instigated a re-examination of NUSAS' political ideology and its role in the struggle against apartheid. In the early 1970s, NUSAS increasingly became informed by Western Marxist ideas.[2] [3] It turned to organising workers through its Student Wages Commission programme with an initial mandate to run an "investigation into the wages and working conditions of unskilled black university staff" and later to begin organising workers into trade unions.[4] This work is argued to have sparked the emergence of black trade unionism in South Africa that went on to play a seminal role in opposition to apartheid in the 1980s.[5]

Throughout this time many students at 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, by 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.

On 2 July, 1991, NUSAS dissolved during with the conclusion of its 67th congress.[6]

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