Congratulations to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) for being ranked as the best physics research institution in Africa. The rankings are done by the top international science journal, Nature.
UWC also plays a very significant part in the history of brown people. The university was started as a college for Coloured South Africans in 1960 and was relied upon by the Apartheid government toproduce teachers, nurses and essential government employees. But during the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s, UWC became known, locally and nationally, as “the home of the left,” for the amount of politically radical ideals and positions the institution took up.
During UWC’s first 15 years, the board and staff were primarily white, supporting the National Party and apartheid. One of the few exceptions was Adam Small, head of the Philosophy Department. Small was fired in 1973 because of his involvement in the Black Consciousness Movement. Apart from lecturers like Small, there were many students who were active in the struggle against apartheid, and protests from students against the conservative university board led to the appointment of the first Coloured rector, Richard E. van der Ross in 1975. The university gradually distanced itself from apartheid and in 1982, the university formally rejected the apartheid ideology in its mission statement. In 1983, the university gained the same autonomy as white universities through the University of the Western Cape Act.
After becoming rector in 1987, Jakes Gerwel, implemented two major changes to the university. First of all, he decided that UWC would be declared a university open to all meaning that anyone could enroll regardless of race. Secondly, he turned the University into the “intellectual home of the left”, focusing on social and political issues. Shortly afterwards, he employed medical physicist, Goolam Aboobaker, as his special assistant. Aboobaker had been forced to resign from his post as a lecturer at UCT due to his involvement in the United Democratic Front.
The university attracted increasing numbers of students from disadvantaged communities. Gerwel was succeeded in 1995 by Cecil Abrahams, who was succeeded by Brian O’Connell in 2001, who was in turn succeeded Tyrone Pretorius.
Other notable events at UWC include the creation of Bush Radio during the late 80s, an anti-apartheid media project. Bush Radio had to distribute political and cultural radio programming via cassette tape because it did not have a license to broadcast on a conventional radio platform. By 1993, the station went to air as a pirate radio station, and eventually became South Africa’s first licensed community radio station.
The University’s students also participated in the 1979 Fattis & Moni’s strike, after Coloured workers refused to be bullied by the management. The strike unleashed a period of strikes in the workplace and contributed towards the period of school boycotts, bus boycotts, product boycotts and civic mobilisation. During the strike, workers submitted a petition signed by 45 workers to the management demanding union recognition, better working conditions, better pay and the reinstatement of dismissed workers.
During the past decade, UWC has developed an international reputation for research and development of free/open source software solutions and open educational resources. UWC is the only African institution that is a member of the Open Courseware Consortium, and was voted onto the OCWC board in 2007.
UWC has also produced a number of high-profile leaders in private and public sectors as well as in academia and in society at large. They include Professor Edith Vries, the director-general of the Department of Agriculture and board member of the Medical Research Council; Cheryl Carolus, former head of South African Tourism and executive director of Peotana Group Holdings; Dr Yvonne Muthien, former executive at MTN and Sanlam; Zoe Wicomb, author and lecturer at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow; and Danny Jordaan, President of Safa.