ARM – May 1995 – Notes on the “Wits 5” defence campaign and NEHAWU sleep-in

On 20 October 1994, members of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) were part of a mass march led by the South African Students Congress (SASCO) on the headquarters of the Department of Education in Johannesburg. The march drew in university and technikon students from across the region. Some time after marchers from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) returned to the Wits campus in the late afternoon, word spread that management was holding a disciplinary hearing against a worker, a member of the SASCO-allied National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). A group, involving people from the Socialist Students Action Committee (SSAC, later the Socialist Worker Students, later part of Keep Left), SASCO and NEHAWU, disrupted the hearing and refused to let management representatives leave.  Police were called in and 37 were arrested.

In 1995, university management proceeded with criminal charges, charging four NEHAWU workers and one SSAC student with kidnapping and assault. ARM played an active role in the “Campaign to Defend the Wits 5” Defence Committee, which kicked off in may 1995 and was driven by ARM and SSAC. ARM and SACC organised pickets, tabling with petitions and ARM issued an ARM Statement on the Campaign. On the 22 May, ARM and SSAC co-organised a mass meeting. SASCO was not active the campaign at this stage, but NEHAWU took the dramatic step of organising a sleep-in at the Senate House Concourse.

ARM members participated, alongside SSAC and SASCO, but student participation was very limited besides the hard-core. A complaint was lodged against an ARM member with the Students Representative Council (SRC) after she supposedly “intimidated” someone (she was part of a group taking chairs to build an enclosed space for the occupation).

Soon after this campaign, ARM was renamed the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF).

The criminal charges against the Wits 5 were eventually dropped, although the SSAC member was by then underground, having jumped bail.

 

About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m 10th generation South African, born and bred. I have long been involved in union education, and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented or published 450+ papers, including conferences and workshops, co-edited 4 journal specials (on global and African labour history, and the left), and produced five books. Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). I won the 2008 international ‘Labor History’ PhD thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) award for best African dissertation, for my thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have also done research in Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.