30 years since Nelson Mandela's release from prison, marking the beginnings of the end of Apartheid, former student activists Pete Loewenstein (Psychology, 1969) and Kanu Patel (Civil Engineering, 1973) recall the anti-Apartheid movement in Nottingham.
“This photograph is from an Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) protest I helped organise and attended in the late 1980s with my wife and children. When I came to Nottingham to study in 1966, I joined the national Anti-Apartheid Movement. There wasn’t an anti-Apartheid group at the University so I formed SPEAR – the Society for Peace and Equality Among Races. Having grown up in South Africa and Rhodesia, and been involved in the struggle against the Ian Smith regime, I was able to speak from first-hand experience of how the racist national laws of those two countries affected ordinary people, denying black people, the vast majority of the population, access to decent land, housing, education, jobs, justice and more.
“SPEAR, which was affiliated to the national AAM, campaigned on race-related issues locally and nationally. SPEAR became a member of the Nottingham Council of Race Relations, ran a youth club for children in the Meadows and campaigned against the Ugandan Asians Bill that was introduced in Parliament. Of course, we also campaigned actively against Apartheid including demonstrating at the Springboks’ matches in the UK, taking part in TV debates on race relations, stopping the South African Ambassador from speaking to a Monday Club meeting in Nottingham, and passing resolutions at the University in support of the Southern African liberation movements.
“In the 1960s, Nottingham didn’t have a particularly radical student population but the late 1960s saw a rise of student protest across Europe in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and developments in Northern Ireland. Within the student body at Nottingham there developed a significant cohort who did care passionately about equality and injustice, and we campaigned hard for what we believed in. Of course, we could have done more, but we had to devote time to our studies. I’m proud to have played a small part alongside many others in the struggle to counter racism in the UK and end Apartheid.
“However, the struggle for social justice and racial equality is ongoing. There is now anti-racist and equalities legislation that punishes hate speech and overt racism but people from BAME communities in the UK are still hugely more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, are vastly under-represented in better-paid jobs and over-represented in poverty statistics, to name just a few examples. One positive in the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations has been that large numbers of young white people joined BAME young people to protest against racism. There have been some improvements since my time at University, but racial inequalities are still obvious and remain a blight on our society.”
“I arrived at Nottingham in 1970, having lived in Manchester since arriving from East Africa in 1966. I was awestruck by the spacious beautiful campus and the facilities. In my first year, I joined the Indian Society (my parents originated from Gujarat in India), which brought me into contact with the local Indian community. The University also had a large intake of international students from Malaysia, Singapore, India and Africa and some from Europe and the United States. In my second year a group of us formed Kwacha, a society to explore the impact of colonialism and neo-colonialism on the former colonies, and to champion the cause of liberation movements in Africa, Asia and the United States.
“Kwacha became involved in anti-Apartheid activism on campus and in the city. We formed a broad alliance with other movements including Nottingham’s Black People’s Freedom Movement and the Indian Worker’s Association in our campaign for equality, liberation and social justice. We joined protests on campus and marches in London, and called an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Students’ Union to pass a motion condemning the South African minority regime and the UK’s role in prolonging the Apartheid regime in South Africa and Rhodesia.
“50 years later and the struggle for Black liberation continues as exemplified by Black Lives Matter. It is indeed very sad that hundreds of years of colonial rule, propaganda and indoctrination has placed this curse on mankind, from which I hope we can escape quickly and restore equality and freedom.”