“Very few of the South African students’ organisations have elicited as mixed a response on their establishment as S(outh) A(frican) S(tudent) O(rganisation) seems to have done. It would seem that only the middle-of-the-roaders have accepted SASO. Cries of ‘shame’ were heard from the white students who have struggled for years to maintain interracial contact. From some of the black militants’ point of view SASO was far from the answer, it was still too amorphous to be of any real help. No one was sure of the real direction of SASO. Everybody expressed fears that SASO was a conformist organisation. A few of the white students expressed fears that this was a sign to turn towards militancy. In the middle of it all was the SASO executive. Those people were called upon to make countless explanations on what this all was about.
I am surprised that this had to be so. Not only was the move taken by the non-white students defensible but it was a long overdue step. It seems sometimes that it is a crime for the non-white students to think for themselves. The idea of everything being done for the blacks is an old one and all liberals take pride in it; but once the black students want to do things for themselves suddenly they are regarded as becoming ‘militant.’ Probably it would be of use at this stage to paraphrase the aims of SASO as an organisation. These are:
(Six points deal with fostering identity, building confidence and strength, and serving to pressure for positive change).
The above aims give in a nutshell the role of SASO as an organisation. The fact that the whole ideology centres around non-white students as a group might make a few people to believe that the organisation is racially inclined. Yet what SASO has done is simply to take stock of the present scene in the country and to realise that not unless the non-white students decide to lift themselves from the doldrums will they ever hope to get out of them. What we want is not black visibility but real black participation. In other words it does not help us to see several quiet black faces in a multiracial student gathering which ultimately concentrates on what the white students believe are the needs for the black students. Because of our sheer bargaining power as an organisation we can manage in fact to bring about a more meaningful contact between the various colour groups in the student world.
The idea that SASO is a form of ‘Black N(ational) U(nion) S(outh) A(frican) S(tudents)’ has been thrown around. Let it be known that SASO is not a national union and has never claimed to be one. Neither is SASO opposed to NUSAS as a national union. SASO accepts the principle that in any one country at any time a national union must be open to all students in that country, and in our country NUSAS is the national union and SASO accepts her fully as such and offers no competition in that direction.
What SASO objects to is the dichotomy between principle and practice so apparent among members of that organisation. While very few would like to criticise NUSAS policy and principles as they appear on paper one tends to get worried at all hypocrisy practised by the members of that organisation. This serves to make the non-white members feel unaccepted and insulted in many instances. One may also add that the mere numbers fail to reflect a true picture of the South African scene. There shall always be a white majority in the organisation. This in itself does not matter except that where there is conflict of interests between the two colour groups the non-white always get off the poorer. These are some of the problems SASO looks into.
We would not like to see the black centres being forced out of NUSAS by a swing to the right. Hence it becomes our concern to exert our influence on NUSAS where possible for the benefit of the non-white centres who are members of that organisation. Another popular question is why SASO does not affiliate to NUSAS. SASO has a specific role to play and it has been set up as the custodian of non-white interests. It can best serve this purpose by maintaining only functional relationships with other student organisations but not structural ones. It is true that one of the reasons why SASO was formed was that organisations like NUSAS were anathema at the University Colleges.
However our decision not to affiliate to NUSAS arises out of the consideration of our role as an organisation in that we do not want to develop any structural relationships that may later interfere with our effectiveness. SASO has met with a number of difficulties shortly after its inception. However besides these problems the Executive has continued applying itself diligently towards setting a really solid foundation for the future. There is reason to believe that SASO will grow from strength to strength as more and more centres join.
The future of SASO highly depends on a number of things. Personally I believe that there will be a swing to the right on the white campuses. This will result in the death of NUSAS or a change in that organisation that will virtually exclude all non-whites. All sensible people will strive to delay the advent of that moment. I believe that SASO too should. But if the day when it shall come is inevitable, when it does come SASO will shoulder the full responsibility of being the only student organisation catering for the needs of the non-white students.
And in all probability SASO will be the only student organisation still concerned about contact between various colour groups. Lastly I wish to call upon all student leaders at the non-white institutions to put their weight solidly behind SASO and to guarantee the continued existence of the organisation not only in name but also in effectiveness. This is a challenge to test the independence of the non-white student leaders not only organisationally but also ideologically. The fact that we have differences of approach should not cloud the issue. We have a responsibility not only to ourselves but also to the society from which we spring. No one else will ever take the challenge up until we, of our own accord, accept the inevitable fact that ultimately the leadership of the non-white peoples in this country rests with us.“ Steve Biko, inaugural address at the formation of the South African Students Organisation, “SASO—Its Role, Its Significance, & Its Future,” December 1, 1969: