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The affair had cast the University of Cape Town in a bad light internationally and was also bitterly controversial on the campus itself where Dr Welsh expressed outrage at the way his distinguished guest had been treated. Accordingly, Dr Saunders — in consultation with the Student Representative Council — decided to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the affair. This was to consist of three men: Professor D.J. Du Plessis, a former Vice Chancellor of Wits, and two prominent lawyers, Ismael Mohamed and Arthur Chaskalson. Both men were known to have strong ANC sympathies (indeed, Chaskalson had only been dissuaded from joining the Communist Party by the party’s chairman, Jack Simons, who felt Chaskalson was more useful to the party as a nominal independent). Undoubtedly the choice of these two men pre-determined the commission’s findings, for it was inconceivable that they would reach a finding not acceptable to the ANC. But choosing such men was inevitable once Saunders decided that the selection of the commissioners had to be made in conjunction with the Student Representative Council, for the UDF activists there were bound to insist on such a choice. They were, after all, in continuous communication with the UDF leadership and the underground ANC.

The commission’s report was a foregone conclusion: it emerged that the student demonstrators had to be exculpated for their use of violence because Conor was a “controversial” figure who had behaved “provocatively”. Indeed, Dr Welsh was criticised for having invited him in the first place. (The report mis-spelt Conor’s name throughout.) Even among those who had supported the cancellation of Conor’s lectures there was embarrassment at this finding. In effect the commission had decided that although the principle of freedom of speech (and every other notion of academic freedom) had been grossly violated, it turned out that the person to blame was . . . Conor himself.

A meeting of the UCT Senate was then called to consider the report. A record turnout crammed into the Baxter Hall but it was, for all concerned, a very sad occasion. Even those who felt the report had to be approved were extremely unhappy at the precedent thus set and realised that their approval of the report would further tarnish the reputation of the university. Against that, Saunders was popular and to vote against the report would now be to disavow him. Worse, the threat of arson and of violence against those who defied the academic boycott was still very much in the air and the assembled professors knew they would be closely questioned by angry students if they voted in an “incorrect” fashion and that reprisals against such “incorrect” voters were likely. In the end the report was overwhelmingly approved, though only against the passionate opposition of Dr Welsh and his supporters.
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