Today is Freedom Day in South Africa - a public holiday to commemorate the first free and non-racial elections held on 27 April 1994. As I drove past the imposing, Virginia Creeper-clad walls - now in autumnal splendour - of the University of Cape Town (UCT) in the shadow of Devil's Peak, I thought a photo of this august institution would be a good way to honour those who opposed the Apartheid state to win the freedom we take for granted now.
In 1959, the Apartheid government passed the Extension of the University Education Act, despite opposition by UCT staff and students, past and present (and also at other universities like Wits in Johannesburg). This act took away the freedom of universities to choose who to admit, a way of barring black students. The university erected a plaque in 1960, the Latin plaque, to mark the shameful day, and the TB Davie Academic Freedom Lecture was instituted to recall this loss every year. In 1968 academic freedom at UCT was further restricted when the state compelled UCT to overturn its decision to appoint a black academic, Archie Mafeje, to its staff. This second restriction of UCT’s academic freedom is commemorated by the 1968 Latin plaque. During the 1970s and 1980s the state’s grip on academic and personal freedoms tightened even more, producing open resistance by numbers of students and staff and bitter clashes with the police. Since 1990 the state’s overt restrictions on academic freedom at UCT have been withdrawn.
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