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At this point Conor, lacking local knowledge, made two critical mistakes. First, he pointed out that he could hardly be accused of racism. His record was clear enough and, after all, he had come to Cape Town accompanied by his own black son. This seemed only to madden the demonstrators, who claimed that Patrick was a mere token black. In any case, it was in their eyes a mere diversion from their central ideological cause. The real question was: how could Conor dare to ignore a boycott policy which had the backing of the liberation movement itself (then conceived as an almost god-like entity)? Conor replied that he had never believed in the academic boycott which was “a Mickey Mouse affair”. This was seen as tantamount to mockery of the anti-apartheid cause and enraged the students further. It was clear the lecture could not continue and Conor was hurriedly smuggled out through a side door to avoid matters getting further out of hand.

The demonstrators, now thoroughly aroused, marched on the political science department, demanding to see “Conor” — they never really grasped his whole name. However, the news of what had happened at Conor’s first lecture had thoroughly alarmed members of the department. (Dr Welsh was so alarmed that he retreated to his house where he hired two armed guards — for by this time the protesters were threatening arson. He vanished for several days.) Other members of the department also decided that the absence of body was preferable to the presence of mind.

It is worth mentioning at this point that what these Department members knew all too well was that the great bulk of black students were very poorly educated, had only the most parochial conception of events and had only heard of Conor a week or two before. In addition, they came from township backgrounds where violence was always a ready and immediate response. Anyone who taught such youngsters was soon aware that they were a somewhat explosive quantity, especially since they were inflamed by millennarian expectations and (an altogether reasonable) sense of grievance.

So when the protestors reached the department they found only Professor Hermann Giliomee, a liberal Afrikaner recently hired from Stellenbosch University, taking a cup of tea in the departmental tea-room. Addressing Giliomee as “the Comrade Professor”, the protesters’ leader, one Comrade Ziko, demanded to know where “Conor” was and which was his study. Giliomee, unperturbed, said Dr O’Brien was not there and nor would he tell them which was Dr O’Brien’s study for he did not feel confident that they would not molest it. On this he would not budge and eventually the protesters dispersed. They seem to have been a little flummoxed to meet a calm and benign Afrikaner rather than the heretical Irishman they had sought.
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