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  September 11, 2000

Joint Projects with South Africa
Receive $1 Million in Grants

Calling it the next step in a great set of partnerships between the University and major institutions in South Africa, President Philip E. Austin announced at a press conference Wednesday the awarding of two grants totaling more than $1 million that could serve to inspire the global community in building a more humane future.

Joined by the speaker of the South African National Assembly, a member of the South African parliament, a U.S. Congressman, and a University history professor, Austin announced that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $665,000 grant to the partnership between the University and the African National Congress.

"It has been said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it," said Austin. "It may also be said that those who remember the past, through the documents and the recollections of great historical movements, may be inspired to build a better and more humane future."

He also announced a separate $460,000 grant from the United Negro College Fund that will link UConn and the University of Fort Hare, South Africa's premier historically black university. The linkage, based on the principle of reciprocal learning, is designed to foster international understanding and cooperation.

Austin reiterated the University's commitment to being a part of the global community. "We have been engaged in a major transformatio n at the University over the past few years, building on a strong foundation to move to the highest level in American public education," said Austin. While part of that transformation is physical, an equally important element, he noted, is programmatic.

"UConn is committed to being part of the global community, to studying and teaching about cultures far removed from our own and to welcoming people from across the world to be part of our community." Austin added that the commitment also comes in the form of resources to promote the fundamental dignity and the political and social rights of people not only in the United States but throughout the world.

"Institutions, like individuals, are known for the company they keep," said Austin. "We are deeply honored to be linked with the Republic of South Africa, and specifically with the African National Congress, in both great endeavors."

Austin added that the successful struggle against apartheid, and South Africa's current effort to build a society based on truth and justice, represent one of the truly inspirational stories of modern times.

Formally launched in March of last year, the UConn-ANC Partnership has three elements: archives, oral history and comparative human rights that will be an interdisciplinary academic program. The Mellon Foundation grant will fund the recording and transcriptions of the oral histories of some 200 ANC party members and leaders, many of them now elderly. The histories will then be made available to scholars for research and study at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center and at the University of Fort Hare, located in Alice, South Africa. The grant will also support the archives project.

UConn took a courageous and correct step in establishing the partnership, Frene Ginwala, the speaker of South Africa's National Assembly, told those gathered at the press conference - including Chancellor John Petersen, students, faculty, staff, members of the University's board of trustees and state legislators including State Rep. Robert Ward (R-North Branford), the House Minority Leader.

"We believe our partnership with the University of Connecticut is something quite rare and will bring rewards to both sides," Ginwala said. "It's a partnership of substance but it's also a partnership of ideals which we share."

She said she believes society will benefit from the partnership with the flow of material from the archives. The archives, she said, will provide the vehicle toward a better understanding of racism in the 20th century.

"When we look around the world, South Africa was not alone in its struggle," she said. "There was genocide and ethnic cleansing in Europe and Asia."

Ginwala said that moving forward in the 21st century, society must ensure a cure, especially in a technologically-driven era, that will prevent further horrific acts against people.

U.S. Congressman Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), who represents the 2nd Congressional District that includes the University, said no struggle in the past century equals that of South Africa.

"All too often we've seen history as a European experience," he said. "What you've undertaken here is critical to making sure the story on apartheid gets out, to make certain that we understand the wrongs that occurred."

Amii Omara-Otunnu, associate professor of history and executive director of the UConn-ANC Partnership who is credited with being instrumental in forging the partnership, said he was humbled by the visit of Ginwala and Naledi Pandor, a member of the South African parliament and chairperson of its upper chamber, the National Council of Provinces.

"This day belongs to our two distinguished guests," said Omara-Otunnu.

"We are proud that UConn will ensure that the archives will not be resting, not collecting dust," he added, "but will be transformed into practical living rights."

Earlier in the day, Ginwala and Pandor met separately with reporters and then with some 50 University students, providing both audiences with powerful personal insight into South Africa today and during apartheid.

There still exists today in South Africa a division, Ginwala said, between the rich and the poor, between black and white. "You'll see new office buildings in Cape Town like those in the United States," she said. "But if you travel two or three miles out of Cape Town, you'll see ramshackle classrooms."

During a question-and-answer session, student Andrew Billard asked what steps can be taken by the South African government to improve the dialogue between whites and blacks. Billard, who lived in South Africa until he was nine and recently returned for a visit, said he felt there was a "perception gap" among whites on what the government is trying to accomplish.

"It's one of our huge challenges," said Pandor. "I'm not sure how you do it, but I think you can bridge the gap through dialogue in educational institutions. I also hold the view," she added, "that the thinking of a group is influenced by the people who lead it."

Claudia G. Chamberlain