I was employed by the International Office of WUS in Geneva, Switzerland from 1975 until 1979. My job title was Associate Secretary for East and Southern Africa. I administered the largest funds in Southern Africa, namely Zimbabwe (as was called Rhodesia then) and South Africa. I was assigned also to keep contact with the national committees in Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Rhodesia, and Lesotho. There was no WUS Committee in South Africa but WUS International worked directly with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) for white students and the South African Students Organization (SASO) for blacks. I was also a lead contact with the committees in Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea because of my language ability.
I visited all the above national committees at least twice during my tenure, except for South Africa. When I was hired by the WUS International, I had been a “prohibited immigrant” in South Africa since 1971 following a brief incarceration and expulsion. So I was not able to visit South Africa from Geneva, though it was where WUS International raised and spent the largest sum, Rhodesia being the number two. I met with South African project holders often in Lesotho. Other times, they came to Geneva.
I once asked Richard Taylor, General Secretary, to visit all the WUS supported programs in South Africa. I was very excited that Richard managed to spend time even with Steve Biko who was under house arrest as a banned person. Little did we know that Richard was followed by the security police everywhere he went. We planned the whole excursion on consultation with Craig Williamson, who was working for the IUEF (International University Education Fund) as Deputy Director. After I left Geneva, in 1980 Williamson was exposed to be a spy for the South African Police, a captain in the Special Branch.
I was made aware of WUS for the first time by a plaque at the entrance of the university library in Lesotho in 1970. The plaque indicated the building was the donation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and WUS. I tried to find the WUS Committee in Lesotho. There was none. The committee had existed apparently but was disbanded. The relation with WUS was severed after the decision of the WUS General Assembly to establish contacts with anti-Apartheid movements and organizations. The Vice Chancellor at the time was British who did not think that keeping the connection with the organization explicitly against South Africa prudent because of the presence of a large number of South African students. It must have been the sign that a change was happening in WUS. In the 1960s many altruistic and activist organizations were shifting the emphasis towards social justice and away from merely charity and welfare.
In 1974, as Dean of Students of the university I encouraged students to revive the national WUS committee. I thought it would be a way for them to be involved in community and national development. The Committee did revive and was recognized at the 1974 WUS General Assembly. When the WUS Lesotho Committee was recognized, the new University Vice Chancellor was very pleased seeing a WUS national committee as an important channel of international assistance.
Among 12 national committees I was assigned to – nine were in Africa and three in Asia – I observed that there were three categories of programs being implemented:
- Service to the students typically by providing important facilities e.g. libraries, residential accommodations and tuberculosis sanatoria;
- Assistance to international students particularly refugees and students disadvantaged by unjust policies and systems;
- Participation in community development and popular consciousness raising programs.
Categories 1 and 2 were the original type of WUS programs in Europe after World War I, which provided opportunity to continue university education for the prisoners of wars and the students with tuberculosis. Scholarships to refugee students displaced by war, civil unrest, and those disadvantaged by unjust society were a part of the category 2.
I classify most of the consciousness raising programs under No.3. They were, for example, the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED) and a few community development programs in black townships. There were several programs carried out by the Black Consciousness Movement headed by Steve Biko. There was only one rural development program, which was based in a university; it was in Rwanda. I found it interesting that the Tanzania and Zambia committees had not found their new niche after the governments introduced university student national service for development. Their Presidents’ (Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda) socialistic philosophy pre-empted WUS’s impetus. They have not found a new direction after ‘bricks and mortar’ foreign aid program in the WUS donor community became redundant.
1. Of the committees I had related to, Sudan, Korea, and Japan focussed more on category one. Student residences were in Khartoum in Sudan, Seoul in Korea and in Tokyo, Japan. I believe Japan had a TB sanatorium as well. It was no longer there when I visited from Geneva.
2. Scholarships: Burundi, Lesotho, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) administered scholarship programs. In South Africa it was implemented by NUSAS which was a scholarship programs for black medical students and political prisoners. Burundi and Uganda administered the scholarships for Tutsi refugee students who escaped violence in Rwanda. They were the victims of the Hutu dominated government’s ethnic cleansing policy. In Lesotho, the WCC took over the WUS scholarship program for South Africans after the national committee was disbanded. WCC transferred the funds directly to the University administration, and it selected the recipients. Because scholarship administration required strict accounting protocol, all scholarship programs had volunteer financial administrators under national committee oversight. Most of my time was spent to keep contact with the administrators instead of volunteer student committees. Administrators were mostly faculty members.
The program in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was by far the largest in terms of the size of funds as well as the number of recipients. It was the program to support all black students at the University of Salisbury. Though the university admitted all races with school A level qualifications, most black students could not afford the cost which was determined by the average income of white population, hence the scholarship assistance. Source of funds was the WUS committees in Canada, Denmark, and the U.K. and one government direct, Sweden. WUS committees received their contributions from the government aid agencies also. In the implementation of scholarship programs the shift should be noted from an emphasis on welfare to social justice. All WUS scholarships were social justice actions fighting political and social injustice.
3. Participation in development: a shift from welfare programs to an emphasis on social justice must have grown from the mere support of refugee students to include the support of students who were disadvantaged due to discrimination and other unjust practices. This shift towards social action programs included consciousness raising popular education to create a more just society. It became massive and effective such as Newspaper Education Supplements, and was exemplified by programs such as one created by the South African Committee on Higher Education (SACHED) and the Domestic Workers’ Project to make maids, nannies, and gardeners more aware of their conditions and their rights. The fact that those popular education programs quickly became the target of attack by the South African government proves that it was effective. Newspaper education supplements and the educators were banned very quickly. All the funds for South African programs were Swedish government grants. SACHED was the biggest program in terms of the size of funds in WUS International.
One curious twist I found was in Rwanda: there was an active agricultural research program implemented by WUS students at the National University of Rwanda directly funded by the Canadian government, in Butare in Southern Rwanda. I found it creative and well run. When I visited the university, the student body was exclusively from people of Hutu ethnic group. It might have been the result of civil unrest and exodus of the Tutsi population. It is an interesting question why the violent persecution, even the massacre and resultant exodus of the Tutsis produced a university where students were all Hutu and keenly interested in rural development. Was it accidental? I never had time to solve the puzzle. A decade and a half later, the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu government happened.
Another interesting feature of some WUS national committees was the relationship with the Student Christian Movement (SCM). I found this in Japan, Korea, and Zambia. Of course, until 1970, WUS International office shared the same building and services such as the receptionist and the custodian on rue Calvin in the historical old Geneva on the hill, with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), which is the international headquarters of the SCM. Japan and Korea still operated student residences with strong ties with SCM. In Zambia, the WUS committee did not have any WUS program. It looked like an SCM national chapter. I know this because before I joined WUS in 1975, I was Regional Director of the South African UCM (SCM) for Lesotho and Orange Free State.
Finally, let me say a few words about the International office of WUS in Geneva. The running of the office in Geneva on rue Cointrin was not in my job description. or that reason, I never raised a serious alarm about the existential problem of WUS International. However, I thought there were two dangerous aspects. Firstly, there was an over-dependence on government funding exclusively for Southern Africa programs; and secondly the source of the largest amount of funds for Southern Africa was mostly from one country, namely Sweden, where WUS had no national counterpart. Yet, the cost of running the office in Geneva was mainly financed by Swedish government funds as the fee for administration, which created a sort of organizational instability.
I conclude with the challenge from the experience of working in World University Service in regard to the role of Civil Society, such as NGOs, in the global human family. There has to be a balance of power between three sectors of the global human family: Market, Civil Society, and Government. Margaret Thatcher said, “There is no such thing as SOCIETY. There is only MARKET.” Charles de Gaulle said, “Government has no CAUSE only INTEREST.” The demise of WUS International is the result of an NGO losing its independence as it turned into GONGO (Government sponsored NGO.)
Before Tad Mitsui’s appointment to WUS International as associate secretary for East and Southern Africa, a position he held from 1975 to 1979, Tad taught at the University of Lesotho and chaired WUS Lesotho. He was detained and expelled from South Africa for his work with anti-apartheid organisations. After his WUS years he worked for the Canadian and World Council of Churches to support justice-oriented organisations in Southern Africa and Palestine. An ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, his pre-retirement job was the administrative head of the Synod of the United Church of Canada, Eastern Ontario and Quebec.