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The 1968 "Mafeje Affair" sit-in, 50 years on
15 Aug 2018 - 14:30
Students protest against the ban placed on the appointment of Archie Mafeje outside Jameson Hall, 7 August 1968. Image courtesy, UCT Special Collections
In 1968, student anger was sparked by UCT Council’s decision to rescind an offer of employment made to Archie Mafeje, a black academic. Government threats to impose sanctions on UCT should it appoint Mafeje precipitated the withdrawal of the offer. When initial student protests to get UCT to appoint Mafeje failed, a decision was taken to stage a sit-in at Bremner.
For almost ten days, some 600 students occupied Bremner, despite intimidation from various quarters. But the protest eventually petered out. UCT did not reverse its decision, and the “Mafeje Affair”, as it came to be known, has cast a long shadow over UCT ever since.
This week, UCT alumni from around the globe have gathered to commemorate the golden anniversary of the sit-in.
Archie Mafeje. Image courtesy, UCT Special Collections
Call to Action
Documents from 1968
Archie Mafeje was offered a post as anthropology lecturer at UCT. The offer was then rescinded as a result of government pressure. 1968 was a year marked by student protests across the globe.
The "Mafeje Affair" was the spark that ignited student anger at UCT, resulting in South Africa's own "1968 moment".
After earlier attempts to persuade the UCT administration to reverse its decision failed, it was decided to stage a "sit-in", a form of protest that had been sweeping across American and European campuses. At a mass meeting it was resolved to stage a sit-in at the university's administration building until Mafeje was reinstated, and measures put in place to protect academic freedom.
The protesters held out for nine days, despite intimidation from various quarters. But the battle was lost. UCT did not appoint Archie Mafeje.
He left South Africa shortly thereafter to pursue his career abroad. He returned to South Africa in 2000, and died in 2007.
A Timeline | Taking a stand for academic freedom
Special Collections at UCT Libraries holds an extensive range of materials pertaining to the protest, a sample of which are displayed here in recognition of the attempts made by the students of 1968 to uphold the values of academic freedom.