Sunday, 9 November 2008

Saths Cooper

8 / 11 / 8

Since returning from Pretoria on Wednesday after spending an excellent evening at the North South Backpackers in Hatfield (which I would highly recommend to anyone spending time in Pretoria), we met with Sath Cooper back in Jo’burg. Saths Cooper Is
Political Activist and Psychologist who was born on 11 December 1950 in Durban. He was the eldest child of Alimal and Appasamy Cooper. Cooper matriculated from Sastri College, Durban in 1967. The following year, he enrolled for a B. A. degree at the University College - an affiliate of the University of South Africa (UNISA) - Salisbury Island, Durban. As a student Cooper was against the motion which called for the imminent renaming of the College to University of Durban-Westville.. He saw this as another form of segregating Black people along ethnicity.

Politics gained the upper hand in Cooper's life as he soon found himself liasing with other students from various universities. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Student Representative Council (SRC) in the University College. Through campus politics Cooper met frequently with Steve Biko, Harry Nengwekhulu, Strini Moodley and Barney Pityana, and it was through their discussions that the philosophy of Black Consciousness emerged. It was also this group that advocated that Black universities move away from the radical National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).
In 1969 Cooper was suspended from the university for his political ideologies. However, although Cooper strongly refutes it, in 2003 there was a dispute on whether he was suspended for political reasons or for cheating in an exam. As an expelled student, Cooper could not take part in the launch of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) in 1969 and the following year the South African government denied him a passport to study overseas, where he had received a scholarship.
Having been asked to assist the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in 1971, he urged other Indian activists to embrace the Black Consciousness ideology not to see it as as potentially leading to Black racism. At the launch of the Black People's Convention (BPC) in 1972 Cooper was elected as secretary. This forced him to resign his Vice-President position from the NIC, as it was increasingly difficult to balance his provincial and national positions. The following year he was banned and restricted to the Durban magisterial district for five years for his role in political activities. Cooper later took part in the Durban Strike of 1973, where he was arrested, charged and convicted for assaulting a policeman.

Cooper was instrumental in the organisation of the ‘Viva Freelimo rallies’ held in South Africa in 1974. This resulted in him being arrested under the Terrorism Act and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1976. He served his prison term at various places, among other Robben Island, and was released on the 20 December 1982. While in prison he continued studying and obtained his B.A. degree in Psychology through UNISA. Upon his release he continued studying and completed his honours and masters in Applied Psychology through the University of Witwatersrand. In February 1983, he re-entered politics and was elected Vice-President of the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO). He was again detained, in September 1984, with Aubrey Mokoape under Section 28 of the Internal Security Act, for carrying out the ideologies of banned organisation. After his release Cooper studied for a doctorate in Applied Psychology. Between 1990 and 2002 he was a practising psychologist. In 2003 he was appointed Vice-Principal of the University of Durban-Westville and steered the merger with the University of Natal.

Dr. Saths Cooper, a ‘76’er. – the young men who were arrested & detained around the time of the Soweto Uprising in 1976. He was the perfect antidote to the ‘Rivionia Trial’ men with whom we spoke in Cape Town and a member of the Black Consciousness Movement, which Steven Biko led in the 1970’s. When he went into Robben Island, Saths couldn’t understand why these ‘old’ men were accepting of the prison rules & were working within them. The men of his generation refused to play within these rules, refused to be classified (A – D classification which allowed or disallowed certain privileges) and continuously fighting the small battles within the prison.

We were pleased to find out that, unlike the other gentlemen, Saths did remember signing the ‘bible’ and speaking with Sonny about it. As he was one of the later signatorees, he told us that he didn’t want to repeat any already chosen passage, so he found this one from ‘Hamlet’:

Act 1, scene 4, lines 17-36:
Hamlet: ‘This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduc’d and tax’d of other nations;
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed, it takes
From our achievements, though perform’d at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men
That, for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin;
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason;
Or by some habit that too much o’er leavens
The form of plausive manners – that these men,
Carrying, I say the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery or fortune’s star,
His virtues else, be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as many may undergo,
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. The dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.