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 five 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.

 

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also 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 papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).