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Honouring Dr Basil Moore

Date Released: Fri, 8 April 2011 20:04 +0200

Dr Basil Moore, who received an Honorary Doctorate in today’s Graduation ceremony (8 April), also received an apology from the University for refusing him a lecturing post during the apartheid regime.

Dr Moore initially enrolled at Rhodes in the early 1950s, returning later that decade to begin formal training for the ministry. It was then that he became involved in student politics, culminating in his election as President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) and, later, of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).

He took on a role as a part-time lecturer at Rhodes in 1965. In 1966 he and Fr John Davies, Methodist and Anglican chaplains respectively, were approached by Catholic chaplain Fr Colin Collins, who was propounding the idea of a radically ecumenical and non-racial student Christian body. With the parent churches raising no opposition, the United Christian Movement (UCM) came into being. Although committed to non-violence, the UCM was still regarded with suspicion by the Rhodes Council, who feared it would act as a conduit for Black Power movements and lead to student radicalism.

The year 1967 saw the banning of black political parties, and their student wings. In addition, the government tried to discourage black students from further participation in NUSAS, leaving them with no national forum in which to meet and discuss issues except the fledgling UCM.

At the UCM conference the following year Steven Bantu Biko called for a black caucus, which recommended the establishment of a new student body for black students. In response, Biko and Barney Pityana formed SASO, the South African Student's Organisation.

The year 1968 also saw the seizure of Dr Moore's passport by the apartheid government; prevented from travelling overseas for research purposes, he applied for a theology lecturing post at Rhodes and was refused by Council not once but twice in 1969, despite gaining approval from Senate.

When Council refused to reveal its reasons for the decision, and refused to let SRC representatives address their meeting, a sit-in in the Council Chambers resulted, leading to the eight-week suspension of thirteen students and the dismissal of temporary politics lecturer, David Tucker. This became known as the “Basil Moore affair”.

After being refused employment by Rhodes, Dr Moore completed the research for his PhD, and spent two years stationed in Carltonville, a strongly nationalist mining town of which he says, wryly, “I survived two years there. (It) was not exactly the kind of place for someone with my history and ideas to try to minister.” Thereafter he became full-time theology director of the UCM, until its closure in 1971.

He was appointed Director of the leadership training program of the African Independent Churches Association, but this came to an abrupt halt in December 1971 when he was banned and placed under partial house arrest. In August 1972 he was given permission to leave the country but at the same time declared a “prohibited immigrant”, a ruling which took him and his family into exile.

His passion for education has not diminished, however, and he is, he writes, “deeply and passionately involved in our local Aldinga U3A (University of the Third Age). It keeps me very busy and keeps the aging brain alert.”

At this graduation ceremony, Rhodes University honoured not only an alumnus and a former member of staff, but also a man who helped to fight the good fight against a harsh and unjust system; a man who fought for the essential humanity of all to be recognised.

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Picture by Sophie Smith