Apartheid meeting ends in riot

12 December 1967

Guild Gazette reports today on the storm of protest that met Dr Gruber of the South African Foundation when he attempted to speak at a meeting of the Conservative Association in the Union:

Guest speaker Dr Gruber, of the South African Foundation and Mr Ken Young, chairman of the Conservative Association were forced to leave the stage in the Mountford Hall on Friday as their meeting broke into open disorder.

Dr Gruber, who had originally been invited to speak by the Apathy Society and was due to address their meeting later the same day, refused to continue his stay in the university and left for London.

Before he left, Dr Gruber issued a statement to the Conservative Association. He said that he had visited most universities in the country, including LSE, but ” he had never before received such a reception from a student audience. He refused to speak later in the evening, and the meeting was stopped for fear of damage to university property.

As the meeting turned into a riot, the Labour Society along with the Liberals, SARI and the Peace Society stormed the platform and some members of the audience tried to seize the microphone from Mr Ken Young. A struggle ensued and Mr Young called the meeting off.

The meeting had originally been publicised as “Support Apartheid” by the Conservative Association and most of the left-wing groups in the Guild had agreed to attend.

At the beginning of the speech, Dr Gruber, who was to defend apartheid on moral, economic and social grounds, was subjected to spasmodic heckling. He kept a cool disposition as the audience demanded that he be more explicit.

The real trouble started when Mr Richard Davies began to ask questions. He asked four pointed questions about South African internal affairs including one about Sharpeville. Dr Gruber refused to answer and instead talked about the verdict of the International Court of Justice which deliberated on apartheid at the Hague.

The audience was now becoming increasingly restless as Mr Trafford asked a question concerning the morality of apartheid and met with the same evasive reply. The banners and placards that had for so long been rested were now raised and the language of the audience was becoming increasingly violent.

A fight broke out at the front of the Hall between two white students and a coloured person, while another member of the audience went up to the front of the stage to try and embarrass Dr Gruber by speaking to him as he was speaking. Dr Gruber was becoming irritated and rather harassed by the state of the audience though he maintained a dignified appearance to the bast of his ability.

The event that sparked off the whole disturbance was the speech by an African member of the Maths department. After two minutes the Chairman, Mr Ken Young asked him to draw his remarks to an end. At this point the people with placards rushed forward to the front of the stage and the noise became deafening.

Dr Gruber was forced to sit down and the Chairman was unable to make himself heard above the noise of the audience. Paper darts were thrown; chants reached mass proportions; the language of the audience became wilder and the meeting threatened to become uncontrollable. Eventually, the Lady President, who had once approached the stage before to advise the Chairman, went onto the platform and called for quiet. The demonstrators resumed their seats and Miss Bagshaw was able to say that executive were unable to call off the meeting as the Conservative Association had booked the Hall until 2.30 pm.

As Miss Bagshaw left the stage, two members of the audience rushed up and seized the Chairman, Mr Ken Young. There was a struggle in which one of the assailants offered Mr Young a glass of soapy water, which ended up spilt all over the table. The table microphone was seized and a fight developed as Mr Young tried to hold on. The lead to the microphone was pulled out and Mr Young just managed to close the meeting and lead Dr Gruber off before the platform was taken over by members of the Labour Society. They were quickly joined by the Chairman of the Liberals and of SARI.

With the meeting due to close at 2.30 pm., it was proposed to hold a teach-in on apartheid but it was impossible for those in control of the stage to get an extension of the time limit.

The first assault on the stage by members at the front of the hall.  For five minutes they stood chanting and accusing Dr Gruber of fascism before order could be restored.  Five minutes later the second assault of the stage took place and the meeting was abandoned.