Sarah Slator

  • Sarah SlatorSarah Slator joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2015. The title of her thesis is ‘Politics in the Court Room: International Diplomacy, the Global Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Rivonia Trial, South Africa, 1963-64’.

    How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

    I have worked at Oxford Brookes for a number of years as a professional services member of staff.  I joined the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2013 and became familiar with the research undertaken by academic staff in the School of History, Philosophy and Culture.  Inspired by the work done in the School, I worked for a time to create a research proposal which was accepted by the department and I enrolled as a part-time research student in September 2015.  Since beginning my studies at Oxford Brookes, I have been impressed with the support that is available to ensure that students get the most out of their studies.  My supervisory team have been incredibly supportive and the training and events organised by the faculty and by the University have been very useful as I settled into my studies.

    Tell us about your research.

    Between October 1963 and July 1964, ten defendants were tried under the General Laws Amendment (Sabotage) Act and the Suppression of Communism Act.  Amongst the ten, there were several prominent campaigners against the apartheid regime, including Nelson Mandela. This trial was widely observed, and condemned, across the world and was the subject of UN Security Council Resolution 190, demanding the release of all persons convicted or being tried for opposition to apartheid.  

    My work examines both the international diplomacy and international campaign movements that surrounded the Rivonia trial in South Africa by completing detailed archival research of government bodies and various campaign organisations. I will utilise these records in a way informed by recent developments in the field of transnational history.  I have chosen to examine the diplomacy of the US and the UK with South Africa, as these counties traditionally had a close relationship, sharing histories that are linked through colonialism and trade. I have visited various archives in both countries to view primary sources. 

    The campaign movements for racial equality that connected South Africa to the US and the UK are significant.  Many of the leading activists fighting the apartheid regime at this time were internationally known figures and were inspired by, or had links with, political leaders and activists in other countries, including both the US and the UK. Nelson Mandela, defendant number one in the Rivonia trial, did not visit the United States until after his release in 1990, but in his autobiography, he states that he was inspired in his youth by Americans such as W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr.  He did, however, visit the UK in 1962 and met with leaders of the Labour and Liberal Parties, as well as others involved in the anti-apartheid movement. Many anti-apartheid activists fled to the UK and carried on with their work in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, while activists in the US frequently viewed their civil rights struggle as part of a wider movement for racial justice.  

    I am keen to explore to what extent the Rivonia trial acted as a rallying point for campaigning groups to focus on, as well as an event that officials in the Governments of the US and the UK had to respond to, and I hope to find examples of where these two worlds collided.  To do this I will be looking for connections between the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the British Government on this issue, and lobbying by campaign groups: for example, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples, the American Committee on Africa and International Defence and Aid Fund, among others.

    How has the Santander scholarship helped your research project and progression of your research degree programme?

    Being awarded a Santander scholarship has been greatly beneficial for my studies.  I have been fortunate enough to win funding for some of the necessary travel to archives during the course of my studies, but some of this I have had to cover out of my own resources.  Being awarded this scholarship has eased the financial burden I face, leaving me free to undertake further necessary trips to gather vital information for my research project.  

    What do you enjoy about being a research student?

    I have been studying now for three years and I have really enjoyed my time working on my project. I have nearly completed the information gathering phase of my research and I am shortly to begin my writing up.  I am looking forward to this stage as it will bring together all of the work that I have completed in my last few years of study.

    The greatest challenge I have faced as a part-time student is managing my time effectively around working in a full-time job.  It is sometimes difficult to sit down and study after a busy day in the office, but I manage this by setting myself small, frequent deadlines so that I have targets to work towards.  This, as well as still maintaining a keen interest in my topic, has kept me motivated.  Meeting a deadline also means that I can treat myself to time away from my studies, allowing me to do something else and then come back to it after a week or two, feeling refreshed and ready to begin again.

    What are your future plans?

    After completion of my PhD, I am aiming for a career in academia. I am working to ensure that I take every opportunity, within the University as well as externally, to support this aim over the course of my studies.