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Lift the ban on Ashwin!

January 27, 2006 | Page 6

Scholar and activist Ashwin Desai has been barred from the campus in Durban, South Africa, where he has worked since 2003.

The banning order is based on long-resolved charges that date from 1996, when Desai was active in protests against layoffs and outsourcing at his university. An outspoken opponent of the inequality that has persisted since the fall of formal apartheid in 1994, Desai is the author of We Are the Poors, an expert on racial discrimination in sports and a contributor to the International Socialist Review.

In December, the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) re-imposed the banning order that stemmed from Desai's activism at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) in the mid-1990s. According to Indymedia South Africa, the predominantly Indian UDW was then managed--shortly after the fall of apartheid--by "barely reconstructed" administrators. "In 1996," says Indymedia, "in a move that saved many of his fellow protesters their jobs, Ashwin made an agreement...under which he resigned, and submitted to being banned from campus."

Later, Desai became an unpaid researcher at a different, mostly-white school in Durban, the University of Natal. Meanwhile, the vice-chancellor of UDW lifted the seven-year-old banning order, so he was free to roam both campuses.

Later in the year, the two schools merged to become UKZN, and Desai continued to work unmolested--until he applied for, and won, an externally funded grant do paid work at UKZN on racism in sports.

At that point, the new vice-chancellor, William Makgoba, revoked Desai's grant, claiming that the old banning order still applied. Makgoba even prohibited Desai from continuing in his unpaid position. According to the Indymedia report, South Africa's ministry of education, which played a role in Makgoba's appointment, employs "a number of people against whom Ashwin protested while at UDW."

Aside from the motive of revenge, the UKZN administration may also be keen to bar an experienced activist just when it has announced $4.3 million in cuts to next year's staff salaries and bonuses.

In his fight to be reinstated on campus, Desai has received the backing of UKZN's biggest union, as well as letters of support from scholars worldwide, including Noam Chomsky, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri and Dennis Brutus. There is also an online petition for supporters to sign. To learn more about Desai's case, visit While you're there, click on the link for the "Unban Ashwin Desai" petition and sign your name.
David Whitehouse, Chicago

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