Title: Transcripts of interviews conducted by Gwendolen M. Carter, 1972-1985
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Title: Transcripts of interviews conducted by Gwendolen M. Carter, 1972-1985
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Language: English
Creator: Carter, Gwendolen M.
Copyright Date: 1972
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Bibliographic ID: UF00095707
Volume ID: VID00003
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Conversation with Mrs. Fatima Meer
of the University of Natal, transcribed
in Evanston, Illinois on December 13,
1972.

GMC
F'atma, what I am particularly interested to know from you is how SASO developed what were

the roots of its origins, and what paths you think it has been pursuing and where it is now.

If you can do this in as chronological a form as possible it would be a help.

FM We'll start with the origins of SASO. The 'rigin of SASo would go back at least five

years as I recall it. It is primarily,as I see it a reaction against NUSAS itself, a

feeling of frustration on the part of its black members within NUSAS that they did not have

enough representation within that organization that they were certainly not drawn in on the

decision making areas of NUSAS and they felt that they had therefore to have an organization

of their own within xKazk which they could assess their own position and from within which

they could work out their own sort of gestures, of policies, programs for somekind of

improvement or strengthening of their position as students in the South African social

scene. SASO, of course, started off with a number of organizations. As I remember it

rather vaguely having different names and being positioned on different campuses, the fact

that you have had in South Africa emergence of so-called ethnic universities has of course,

directly stimulated and influenced the millions of SASO. There was a very strong feeling

on the part of the students in these ethnic universities that they were physically very

divided and it was very important for them to work out some means of coming together and

overcoming the physical boundaries. So they first, to summarize again, it is a reaction

against NUSAS, it is something which is very pointedly made possible by the emergence of

the ethnic university, it grew out of a desire for these ethnic universities to form some

unity among themselves as a student body. This then, would be, as I see it, the genesis

of SASO.

GMC If I could ask you just one question in relation to the ethnic colleges. Was the

stimulus from any particular one of the ethnic colleges and what share did the students

who were still at Cape Town or Wits or the University of Natal, the African of Indian

students who were at any of those institutions, what share did they take in trying to

build these links between black students and, I gather, particularly African and Asian
students.









compiled
FM This is interesting. As I recall it, and I haven't read any sort of xmmpaxaktxa

interpretation on the genesis of the combining of the But as

I recall it the multi-racial centers of the so-called open universities were the crucial

beginnings of the SASO movement. Wits, I know that about five years back there was an

organization which called itself the Afro-lndian-Coloured or something like that organization

but this was definitely a Black organization under wbk;is Witwatersrand campus, which was for

the first time, visibly and articulately taking up really obvious political questions. It

was a sort of an intellectual form, but it was an intellectual forum which was very much

oriented to study political problems. In Natal, I think, the Medical School had been a

very, very important center. Here I think we must understand the position of the Natal

Medical School. Within a complex of what would be popularly regarded as an open university

in Natal, in fact, they have had, for a very long time, and long before the emergence of the

ethnic colleges, segregated, sealed off wing of Black students. And I would think that the

frustration wa Mi was probably greatest on the Natal open university campus. Because the

students here were able to compare the material facilities made available to them and also

the medical course which was structured for them in a so-called open university with what

existed for white students in other medical colleges and material facilities made available

for their own fellow white sVgdents at the same university. And the discrepancies, physical

discrepancies, in library facilities, in residential facilities, were and continue to be,

extremely stark. You find that you have iRfitxKkiy different SRC's although

this is one student body in one area, is only a stone's throw from Durban center

itself. So you had within a single university a Black SRC and a white SRC. This

continues although you have one single university, you have on the Natal University, each

year when you have the new students enrolling you have a sort of a ceremony in which these

new students are presented to the Chancellor. Now, Black students are never presented to

the Natal Chancellor. Then you have a rag-ball, which is really a white ball, although





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Ben Turok is working full time with the OPEN UNIVERSITY and is

thoroughly enamored with it. He is in charge of the Northeast District

of London, helps to design teaching materials, and is thoroughly immersed

in the experiment, if it can still be so called, of large scale education

through night classes, TV, coaching, and summer institutes in all of which

40,000 people are now enrolled, 30% of them teachers seeking upgrading of

their qualifications and achievement of the degree. He told me quite a

bit about how this all works and only said that he felt guiltyy because

he had so little of his energy to spare for the African liberation movement

for Southern Africa.

There are three fields in which Ben has had a special connection in that

liberation movement and on which I hope very much to be able to tape him later

in my visit here. The first is his activities as part of the Secretariat of

the Congress Alliance. One of his parting comments was "for those who charge

that the whites were dominating the Africans in the Congress Alliance,

the most salutary experience would be to know what it was like to work

with Walter Sisulu. He may not have had very much education but heb n

extraordinarily astute political sense.and I had the most enormous respect

for him in working with and under him as a member of that Secretariat". iIn

the second place Ben was much involved with the Freedom Charter. He said

"I never told anyone else this, I was responsible for the economic clauses

of the Freedom Charter". He then elaborated somewhat in saying that the

final form of Freedom Charter had been hammered out the day before the

Kliptown meeting and that when the ideas came up for the economic section

he had made some intervention on it and when the final form was drafted.

he had discovered that his intervention had been the key factor in the

final formulation. I gathered from his description that a great deal









of the final drafting of the Freedom Charter came that night before the

Kliptown meeting When I asked him whether there was any validity to the

notion that the bits of paper out of which the Freedom Charter was drafted

had all been in the same handwriting he was outraged. On being pressed he

said rather thoughtfully that he suspected that in meetings that he himself

had been involved in( and he described indetail one in a small town which

had a cannery) people had expressed ideas which he had then written down

for them. He described quite vividly the small shed with a few hangings

where he had met with these cannery employees to whom he had spoken, with

translation by his African colleague, and who had very specific spontaneous

desires which they expressed and which he tried to formulate. He was a full

time organizer for the Congress Alliance in the period prior to the Kliptown

meeting and said that the usual technique was to write out a digest /or

formulation of the suggestions or demands which came from the specific

meeting and to hand that formulation into the central secretariat. I asked

about the separate pieces of paper and he thought likely that they were

immediately burned as they would be difficult to keep from the police.

In this sense he though it quite possible that the ultimate statements would

be in a relatively small number of handwriting bu was absolutely convinced

that the basic formulations came from this very large number of meetings that

he and others were involved in. He even said "look at the wording of the

Freedom Charrer itself. Those are very direct and unsophisticated ideas

which are expressed there. I don't include the economic section in that

because I know it has another character and there are a few other sections

that are similarly in a form and expressing ideas that are not the

spontaneous desires of the average people we talked with, but much of

the Freedom Charter reflects the immediacy of their desires."









The third area in which Ben was involved was the underground

activity after the Sharpville shootings. On this he seemed quite eager to

talk because he sparked in recalling it as a special area of his activities

and spoke of the excitement of the underground manuevers and movements. I

would much like to get his rather vivid reactions and recollections of this

time.

As an overall picture he maintains that violence was in the minds of

those who were planning the underground movement and that the formulations

in the RMronia trial ae not really reflecti~ the planning and ultimate

objective of those who were most involved in the meetings. He made a

distinction between the period into the fifties where the demands and

objectives were to achieve equal rights for Africans within the existing

South African political system and the period from the end of the fifties

and particularlyAsixties where it seemed to be necessary to overthrow the

South African political system if change were ever to come. I asked about

the M. Plan and he said that the cell organization was its achievement.

SI think the whole matter of formulation of ultimate objectives grew

gradually but hope to get something more on this. When I asked whether the

fact that the ANC (Turok was part of Umkomto) had moved to this position of

overthrow of the existing political system and the need for Black leadership

and really Black almost domination, whether this part of the ANC's newer

objective brought it closer to the PAC, he thought there was very Little

difference between the two. He emphasized that the PAC had Patrick Duncan

as a member and also Indians and Coloured. The real problem between PAC and

ANC s and was "the arch criminal" Leballb. He charged Leballo with a

despicable role in the Tanzanian trials I think that is fairly well known

that he was an informer there (Turok was in the Tanzanian civil service








at the time) and Leballo seems to remain for Turok the major stumbling

block to getting ANC and PAC together. ANC he felt is now quite committed

to Black leadership, Blacks running the show, and probably ultimately

Black domination in Southern Africa. This is not surprising, but I found

it interesting that he was so firm about it. Pretty clearly this is felt

to be the line with most of those in London of whom I have not seen any

as yet. It keeps being hinted at in particular through Mary Benson's

comment that the ANC would like their documents in London, some suggestions

of.criticism of us for having them, etc., etc. All of this is not surprising

and it seems to be a reflection of a tendency that has been developing a

long time if Turfk's view is accurate as I assume it is.




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