1980s UWC incubated a special breed

By Time of article published Sep 30, 2014

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Heroes all, victims never, architects of their own destiny, Courtney Sampson salutes the University of the Western Cape’s 1980s alumni .

Cape Town - With the imminent University of the Western Cape 1980s Alumni Reunion from October 3 to 5, a lot of us are reflecting on the history and legacy of UWC.

I remember, for instance, the sickening smell of CS gas hanging menacingly in the air as a token of a violent regime’s attempts to defend the indefensible.

The prelude would have been a march by students (often accompanied by staff and rector) in an atmosphere of courage, bravery, fear and uncertainty to confront those most visible symbols of oppression in the 1980s – the huge, daunting yellow Casspirs, and police armed with guns and whips and batons, and all bearing an expression of aggression under their helmets. Overhead, helicopters hovered intimidatingly.

Typically, such a march would have been preceded by a mass meeting of high emotion, from which, singing freedom songs, or chanting that phrase, “Shake shake the guava juice”, from Sandile Dikeni’s poem, we’d toyi-toyi down the road.

“Hek toe! Hek toe! Hek toe!” the students would bellow, and off we’d set, armed and ready (with stones discovered somewhere in the sandy soil of the campus).

This was the age of revolution, regime-changing action, the “soldiers” armed with stones, rocks, a “guava juice” here and there, wet handkerchiefs to neutralise the tear gas – this was the vanguard of the struggle to these 18 - 21-year-olds, heroes all, victims never, architects of their own destiny and the destiny of what South Africa would become.

There were of course the sell-outs, and the impimpi, that most despicable of all students, and the politically aloof – but in the end this was Bush – viva Bush.

There was exceptional student leadership – eloquent, vocal, well-read, inspirational, portraying the utmost bravery. As for fears, those were shared in secret in the chaplain’s office; the concerns about completing studies with struggling parents holding high expectations back home.

Jakes Gerwel, with his calm veneer, deep scary intelligence and clear vision for non-racism and liberation coupled with intense concerns as the academic doyen of his age, was always present, always supporting. Allan Boesak, the fiery rhetorician, was there to express the deepest desires of the oppressed, pointing the way, providing the liberation compass.

The aftermath of such activity could be anything from class boycotts to a frenzied running away from police, though there was nothing that could suppress the spirit of resistance.


At the end of it all, it was always back to the books, to study, to catch up – the ever-present concern being to satisfy the deepest desires of the communities that made it possible for these studies to happen. A deep awareness of the enormous sacrifices back home made it possible to undertake the journey of life via academia.

Bush, where many dreams became realities and many dreams never bore fruit, presented experiences that would last a lifetime and reach deep into the heart of a liberated and democratic South Africa.

The leadership that was incubated during the 1980s at UWC is a special breed, a once-in-a-lifetime breed, a special generation of South African – salute.

* Reverend Courtney Sampson is a former Anglican chaplain to the University of the Western Cape.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus

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