Introduction of Senator Kennedy
By Charles Diamond
Student Representative Council President
University of Cape Town
Before NUSAS "Day of Affirmation" Speech
Cape Town, June 6th, 1966.
Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Vice Chancellor, Senator Kennedy, Professor Robertson, ladies and gentlemen.
The National Union of South African Students may be an association suspect in South Africa. Harassed by police examination of its records, threatened by ministers of state, deprived of the services of its president by the mere decree of the minister of justice, without reasons, without any attempt to charge him with any breach of the law and to substantiate such a charge. It may even have provided shelter for some who abused the positions which they hold within its organization by unlawful and indeed nefarious ends. It is sufficiently important not only in South Africa, but throughout the world, to draw to Cape Town for this occasion Senator Robert Kennedy.
Tonight we are observing the reaffirmation of our belief in academic freedom to which members of the National Union of South African Students are, each year, asked to subscribe. We come to make this affirmation not as a mere passive statement of a belief, but to fortify ourselves for continued effort in what has proven to be a hard task of defending academic freedom against the onslaughts of its enemies.
Nor do we see the issue of academic freedom as an isolated issue. We view it in the wider context of human freedom and wish to reaffirm our belief in all those indivisible aspects of that freedom which an individual can only enjoy in a free society. The promise of which one of those grand declarations of a great United States president, Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, once gave hope and courage to an oppressed, despairing, war torn world.
We do not underestimate the size of the task we have to undertake- freedom from arbitrary discrimination on grounds of race, language, color, sex, religion, political belief, or other irrelevant principles, is basic to the enjoyment of freedom from fear. It is basic to freedom of self-expression, to freedom to develop, to freedom of the human personality, to the freedom of human dignity. Therefore we must take a stand for the principle of non-discrimination. In a community in which the opposite principle of discrimination forms a basis of an ever increasing proportion of all that is being done- NUSAS has no option but to oppose.
It is no doubt in some ways, but not in all, regrettable, that South African students have become involved in politics as much as they have. But NUSAS members did not enter the political arena of their own choice. They were forced into the political arena when what they cherished most- the free open universities to which they belonged- were closed through outside political interference and one by one other academic freedoms faltered under political threat.
I do not say this with any intention of trying to wash dirty South African linen in front of distinguished American visitors. I am forced to say it in order to let Senator Kennedy know the extent of of our debt to him for having come this long distance to show us that we are not alone in what does often seems a rather lonely, unsupported stand for academic and civic freedoms. We cannot but be aware, and it is through no action of ours, that the president of NUSAS cannot be present tonight. And that this is due to an arbitrary and unexplained decision of a higher authority which can make such orders in the name of the state.
Over 50 years ago Mr. Woodrow Wilson, a man who knew the problems of academic freedom, as president of Princeton University, and the more agonizing problems of - possibly more basic freedoms - as a wartime president of the United States said, "the history of liberty is a history of resistance." We students of South Africa, believing in freedom have to accept the role which history imposes on us.
Mr. Robert Kennedy, in a relatively short political career, has made himself a world figure. As Attorney General, and as Senator in the United States, he has shown himself a courageous fighter for the rights of minorities, for those suffering discrimination, for the underprivileged. He is a well known enemy of bigotry and intolerance, a man with a mind of his own from whom we may expect an address tonight reflecting equally rare qualities of mind and heart. I cannot think of anyone better fitted to address this audience on NUSAS' "Day of Affirmation."
With pride as well as pleasure I now call on Senator Kennedy to address us.