by Julian Brown, 2010
This article suggests that the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) began its life committed to a policy of non-confrontational protest and that – until 1972 – its leaders sought to prioritise strategies of negotiation over strategies of public protest. This general policy was confirmed in SASO’s response to white student protests in 1968 and 1970, as well as in a series of discussion documents and General Council resolutions proposed in 1970 and 1971. This policy was, however, challenged by the events that took place at the University of the North following the expulsion of Onkgopotse Tiro in 1972. A wave of seemingly spontaneous student protest forced SASO’s leaders to reconsider their apparent suspicion of public, confrontational forms of protest and reluctantly to accept the necessity of committing the organisation to such protests. I argue that this reluctant embrace was the product of contingent circumstances and pressures from below, rather than the result of an ideological or theoretical shift on the part of SASO leadership. This in turn suggests an alternate approach to the history of SASO, an approach that focuses less on a process of ideological development and more on the contingent details of its institutional history.
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