Students Speeches' list
Vote of Thanks to Senator Kennedy
By Merton Shill
Transvaal Regional Director of NUSAS
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
June 8th, 1966.
Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Deputy Vice Chancellors, Mr. Chairman, Senator Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure for me to be able to propose this vote of thanks to Senator Kennedy and his party, and I should like, in particular as far as the party itself is concerned, to thank both Mr. Tom Johnston and Mr. Adam Walinsky for the tremendous and enthusiastic cooperation which they have given us on this tour. On behalf of the National Union to you sirs, we thank you very much indeed for what you have done for us.
It is not an honour for us to have you with us this evening sir, it is an inspiration, and it was not with pleasure that we have listened to you sir, but it was from compulsion. And it is not with nostalgia that we view your departure tomorrow, but it is with trepidation. And it falls to me to thank you, finally, for your presence in our country and your message of dedication to its young people.
The condition of the young people of this country is a sad one. Distinctions and divisions between them are encouraged and cultivated, rather than healed. And our courageous students of the Transvaal College of Education for Asiatics, many whom are in the audience with us this evening, have been penalized for their participation in our recent strong effort to protest against what we considered arbitrary and executive action.
They were told to seek closer ties to the so-called Indian University College in Durban, 400 miles away, rather than this university two miles away. Official policy inevitably buttressed by appropriate legislation, ironically passed on behalf of all the people is set firmly against interracial cooperation at any level other than that of master and servant. Surely then some have said, it would be wise to abandon the ideal of anational student organization to eschew rather than espouse perilous obstacles and so to seek personal rest and tranquility. But let us remember that Rousseau has said: "Tranquility is found also in dungeons, but is that enough to make them desirable places in which to live?"
The alternative and the course that we must now adopt has been born in the phase of maturation, which has set in on the South African student community in recent weeks. Students in this country have been exposed to various pressures in recent years. But these have now become acute and incisive. We must now cast off all self protective timidity, and we must now willfully and deliberately descend into the arena of danger to preserve the independence of thought, and conscience and action which is our civilized heritage. We must now set ourselves against an unjustifiable social order and strive, energetically and selflessly for its reform.
In trying to do this in your country sir, you have sometimes been met with a parochial mentality. And only yesterday a civil rights worker, James Meredith, was seriously injured during a voter registration drive in Mississippi. Some in our country would alight with glee upon this example of racial intolerance as proof that their separatist philosophy is the correct one. But to elevate the prejudiced folly of some, to an unjustifiably systematic denial of their humanity to others, is what we expect form bigots and bullies and not from professing Westerners.
And it is once again necessary sir, regrettably so, for a South African to apologize to you for the remarkable behavior of those in authority here. A minister of state is reported yesterday to have called you a "little snip." Perhaps he means that you have slit open the receptacle of human compassion in South Africa and that he, and those like him, fear the effusion of its contents. The minister and his cabinet cronies have good reason to fear free wheeling human consciences. They fear them so much that they deny you the courtesy of an official exchange of views, and subject you to contumely while you are a guest in their country.
And the students of South Africa are in your especial debt sir, and on their behalf may I say to you: thank you for recalling for us, that each human life is a shrine to something greater than ourselves and that none of us, not one, may therefore impose our morality or prejudices on any other. Thank you for alleviating the burden of our apartness from the strong mainstream of civilized thought, for showing us that we are, in the sentiments of Socrates, citizens of the world and not only of Athens or Greece. And thank you sir for exhibiting that flexibility of mind, yet steadfastness of purpose and principle, which we may emulate with distinction and success.
And so we part tomorrow- you a leading citizen of your country to assist its advance to greater openness and opportunity for all- and we a national union of students to reapply our energies in our own way to the same end in this, our country. Men live by symbols it has been said, and certain it is that we here have seldom anything more to behold than symbols, but we must not betray the trust that has been reposed in us in the vexatious times which undoubtedly lie ahead for this national union and its leadership.
We shall remember, we shall take courage, and we shall hope.
I thank you sir.