Race slur man shuns Oxford

July 11, 1997

A South-African academic who may face serious criminal charges arising from an alleged campaign of intimidation and violent demonstrations at a mixed-race university has pulled out of an Oxford conference where he was due to deliver a controversial paper on ethnicity and labour relations.

Ashwin Desai was one of three staff association members at the University of Durban-Westville identified by a presidential commission which found the association largely to blame for an intimidation campaign. It recommended that South Africa's attorney general should consider criminal charges against the association's "leadership clique".

Dr Desai, who has been suspended on the recommendation of the commission pending possible disciplinary action, was due to present a paper this weekend at a conference at St Anthony's College which aims to explore the impact of race and class on labour relations in the United States, South Africa and Britain. The conference coincides with an Oxford visit by South African president Nelson Mandela.

Dr Desai's paper "Race, Class and the Intellectual Left in South Africa's Democratic Transition" is said to be a strongly-worded attack on the role of the white left in South Africa. Conference organiser Peter Alexander said he saw no reason why the paper should not be included in the conference proceedings.

Dr Desai was still expected at the conference as late as Tuesday, but Mr Alexander said later that day: "Ashwin Desai has decided not to come to the conference because he has too much on his plate in South Africa."

Sociologist Ronaldo Munck, now at Liverpool University, drew the attention of conference organisers and Lord Dahrendorf, the retiring master of St Anthony's, to the presidential inquiry's findings. Dr Munck was head of sociology at Durban-Westville but left following a campaign of intimidation which included office and domestic burglaries, tyre slashing and a threat to kidnap his son from the university creche.

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