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NELSON MANDELA AND WITS UNIVERSITY*

  • BRUCE MURRAY (a1)
Abstract

Drawing on the Mandela file in the Wits University Archives covering all aspects of his relationship with Wits, and on Mandela's prison correspondence, this article rotates around a remarkable story of persistence in the face of adversity and repeated failure – the story of Nelson Mandela's 46-year long pursuit of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. In 1943 he first enrolled as a part-time law student at Wits University and finally graduated with an LLB through the University of South Africa (UNISA) in 1989, a year before his release from prison. Fresh light is thrown on the Wits University Mandela dealt with, and on the obstacles placed in the way of his prison studies. Throughout there is a focus on Mandela and Wits – the university's impact on him as a student, his attempts to complete his Wits LLB while on Robben Island, his candidacy from prison for the Wits chancellorship, and, as president, his remarkable reunion with the law class of 1946.

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Copyright
Footnotes
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I wish to give particular thanks to Verne Harris and Sahm Venter of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Michelle Pickover and Zofia Sulej of the Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits University, and Elizabeth Marima of the Wits University Archives for all their assistance with the research for this article. I am also most grateful to Bob Edgar and Tom Lodge for their help and encouragement. Author's email: bruce.murray@wits.ac.za

Footnotes
References
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1 B. K. Murray, WITS The ‘Open’ Years: A History of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1940–1959 (Johannesburg, 1997), 56; A. Sampson, Mandela: The Authorised Biography (London, 1999), 35; T. Lodge, Mandela: A Critical Life (Oxford, 2006), 72; D. J. Smith, Young Mandela (London, 2010), 68–70.

2 Lodge, Mandela, 28.

3 Ibid. 37.

4 For the foundation of the ANCYL see C. Glaser, The ANC Youth League (Johannesburg, 2012) ch. 2, and R. Edgar, ‘Changing the old guard: A. P. Mda and the ANC Youth League, 1944–1949’, in S. Dubow and A. Jeeves (eds.), South Africa's 1940s: Worlds of Possibilities (Cape Town, 2005), 149–69.

5 Lodge, Mandela, 37; Sampson, Mandela, 48; Smith, Young Mandela, 66.

6 Murray, WITS, ch. 2.

7 Ibid. 218–24.

8 N. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Randburg, 1994), 84.

9 Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), Madiba in conversation with Richard Stengel, 16 Mar. 1993.

10 Sampson, Mandela, 35.

11 University of the Witwatersrand, Johannnesburg, Archives (WUA) Nelson Mandela Collection (NMC) WaB-13-Man-N, speeches at the Great Hall memorial service for Nelson Mandela, 12 Dec. 2013.

12 Sitze also writes of Mandela's ‘encounter’ with Hahlo in Roman Law, and his ‘reflections on the “minor” in his ANCYL Manifesto’, when that Manifesto was the handiwork of Anton Lembede, A. P. Mda and Jordan Ngubane, not Mandela. A. Sitze, ‘Mandela and the law’, in R. Barnard (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Nelson Mandela (Cambridge, 2014), 134–61. Sitze's is a stimulating essay, but at times infuriatingly imprecise and inaccurate. For example, he knows full well that Mandela became an attorney but repeatedly refers to him as an advocate.

13 Sampson, Mandela, 34. Welsh had a reputation for setting high abstract standards for his course in Jurisprudence, while McKerron reputedly enforced rigorous British standards.

14 WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N A, Transcript of Mandela's academic record 1943–49 sent by the Registrar of Wits University to the Registrar of the University of South Africa, 18 Nov. 1980.

15 WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N A, Faculty of Law S/403/49, Mandela to the Dean of the Law Faculty, 9 Dec. 1949.

16 WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N B, Faculty of Law S/403/49, Minutes of the Board of the Faculty of Law, 14 Dec. 1949.

17 Murray, WITS, 62–4.

18 Interview with George Bizos, Johannesburg, 15 Feb. 2015; G. Bizos, Odyssey to Freedom (Houghton, 2007), 90; Smith, Young Mandela, 70.

19 Interview with Professor David Zeffertt, Johannesburg, 4 Dec. 2014.

20 For the full correspondence between Mandela and the Bantu Welfare Trust, 1946–58, see Historical Papers Research Archive, William Cullen Library, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (HPRA), Records of the South African Institute of Race Relations AD843/PJ, Pb11.3.9, Mandela file.

21 Ibid.; Mandela to Secretary, Bantu Welfare Trust, 30 Dec. 1946.

22 WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N A, Mandela student card.

23 Lodge, Mandela, 37.

24 Bulletin – Tydskrif: Transvaal African Students Association I (1), 5. Copy kindly provided by Professor Tom Lodge and placed with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

25 See Lodge, Mandela, 28.

26 Callinicos, Tambo, 172–3. For a fuller and rather different analysis of Mandela and the law, including the role of court interpreters, see Sitze, ‘Mandela and the Law’. For black lawyers more generally see K. Braun, Black Lawyers, White Courts (Athens, OH, 2000).

27 Interview with Jules Browde, Johannesburg, 10 Mar. 2015.

28 Mandela, Long Walk, 83.

29 Smith, Young Mandela, 70.

30 Mandela, Long Walk, 85.

31 Murray, WITS, 96–9.

32 Mandela, Long Walk, 84.

33 Interview with Joe Slovo, Johannesburg, Aug. 1990; and Murray, WITS, 99.

34 For Lembede see the introduction to R. Edgar and Luyanda ka Msumza (eds.), Freedom in Our Lifetime: The Collected Writings of Anton Muziwakhe Lembede (Athens, OH, 1996), 1–43.

35 Glaser, Youth League, 20–7; Lodge, Mandela, 32–5.

36 Lembede to First, 16 Mar. 1945, T. Karis and G. Carter (eds.), From Protest to Challenge, Volume II: Hope and Challenge, 1935–1952 (Stanford, 1971), 316.

37 Interview with Professor Mervyn Susser, Jan. 1995; and Murray, WITS, 99.

38 Stephen Plaatjie, ‘ANCYL's Ideological Conflict with Communism’, 15th Biennial Conference of the South African Historical Society, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 2–5 July 1995.

39 Mandela, Long Walk, 112. For an analysis of Mandela's ‘volte-face’ on ‘the issue of multi-racialism’ see P. Bonner, ‘The antimonies of Nelson Mandela’, in Barnard (ed.), Cambridge Companion, 29–49.

40 WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N A, I. Glyn Thomas to Mandela, 9 June and 18 July 1952.

41 Sampson, Mandela, 173.

42 Mandela, Long Walk, 358.

43 Ibid. 398–9. For an overview of study conditions on Robben Island see N. Alexander, Robben Island Dossier 1964–1974 (Cape Town, 1994), 47–65, and F. L. Buntman, Robben Island and Prisoner Resistance to Apartheid (Cambridge, 2003), 62–5.

44 NMF, Mandela personal correspondence.

45 Sampson, Mandela, 217.

46 Alexander, Robben Island, 55.

47 HPRA, Helen Suzman Papers A2084, Ab5.2, David Astor to Helen Suzman, 20 Apr. 1974.

48 NMF, Mandela correspondence with various universities.

49 NMF, Mandela correspondence with Department of Prisons.

50 For the correspondence regarding Mandela's inquiry about the possibility of his completing his LLB at Wits see WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N A.

51 Murray, WITS, 323.

52 G. R. Bozzoli, A Vice-Chancellor Remembers: The Memoirs of Professor G. R. Bozzoli (Randburg, 1995), 190–7. For student politics at the time see G. Moss, The New Radicals: A Generational Memoir of the 1970s (Auckland Park, 2014), chs. 1–6.

53 See Murray, WITS, 323–4.

54 NMF, Mandela personal correspondence.

55 NMF, Mandela correspondence with Department of Prisons.

56 For the clash with Prins see Sampson, Mandela, 218.

57 Ibid. 242–4.

58 See M. Meredith, Nelson Mandela: A Biography (London, 1997), 341–4; Lodge, Mandela, 147–9.

59 H. Suzman, In No Uncertain Terms: Memoirs (Johannesburg, 1993), 189.

60 WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N, Misc. I.

61 Ibid.; Interview with Professor David Zeffertt, Johannesburg, 7 Apr. 2015.

62 Telephone interview with Professor Marinus Wiechers, 23 Mar. 2015.

63 NMF, Mandela personal correspondence.

64 Mandela diary entry, 12 Dec. 1984, in N. Mandela, Conversations With Myself (Basingstoke and Oxford, 2010), 293.

65 NMF, Mandela correspondence with various universities.

66 Mandela, Conversations, 25.

67 NMF, Mandela correspondence with various universities.

68 Mandela, Conversations, 257.

69 NMF, Mandela correspondence with various universities.

70 WUA NMC WaB-13-Man-N, F I, Mandela speeches.

71 Bizos, Odyssey to Freedom, 90.

72 In Mandela's autobiography that person is incorrectly identified as Sarel Tighy, who later became a member of parliament for the United Party. As Jules Browde remembers the occasion, there was an empty seat between him and de Klerk, and when Mandela entered and took that seat de Klerk got up and moved to the other side of the room. Browde spoke to Mandela after the lecture and that was the beginning of their friendship. Interview with Jules Browde, Johannesburg, 10 Mar. 2015.

73 Browde interview; and Sunday Times, 10 Nov. 1996.

* I wish to give particular thanks to Verne Harris and Sahm Venter of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Michelle Pickover and Zofia Sulej of the Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits University, and Elizabeth Marima of the Wits University Archives for all their assistance with the research for this article. I am also most grateful to Bob Edgar and Tom Lodge for their help and encouragement. Author's email:

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The Journal of African History
  • ISSN: 0021-8537
  • EISSN: 1469-5138
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