Odds and quads

This model ship, made of matchsticks by members of the "Upington 26", is on display in the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town.

April 14, 2011

In 1985, at a time of great racial tension in South Africa, a meeting was held on a football pitch in the Paballelo Township, Upington, to discuss the rents the community was being forced to pay. The police threw tear gas, an 11-year-old boy was shot and paralysed, the crowd panicked and a police officer was killed. Of the 54 people arrested, 26 were convicted of "common-purpose" killing and 14 were sentenced to death in 1989.

The following year, the University of Cape Town bought three model ships made by the prisoners for 650 rand, which was deposited in the Upington 26 Trust Fund. Amid great international concern about the fate of the group, the death sentences were overturned in 1991 and all the prisoners were eventually released. One of them, Mr Justice Bekebeke, is now director general of the Northern Cape Province.

In March 2010, the university returned one of the ships to Upington on permanent loan, so that it could be exhibited in a new museum set up by the provincial government.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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