Eight things you didn’t know about the University of Fort Hare

The University of Fort Hare (UFH) is known for its notable alumni – with many political figures who all hailed from this institution. The long, long list of UFH graduates includes the likes of Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Chris Hani, Robert Mugabe, Seretse Khama and Oliver Tambo. It’s well known for being the original “black” university, but what else? Here are eight things you may not know about this institution.

1. 100 years is a long, long time in the life of a university
In February 1916, Louis Botha, the then Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, opened the South African Native College. It became known as “No Collegi”, a shorter way of saying University College of Fort Hare. This year, the university is planning its centenary celebrations, which include a speech by President Jacob Zuma. Unhappy students are trying to disrupt the celebrations, but the university and government maintain that the celebrations will go on.

2. Why was it established?
It was established at a time when colonial encroachment and war had tattered the traditional way of life. Presbyterian missionaries such as James Stewart took it upon themselves to create an institution that will give black people an education which they were deprived of through Christian guidance, but at a university standard.

3. What’s in a name?
The university was a military post during the frontier wars and was named after Colonel John Hare who was an administrator of the Eastern Province. It was established on the site of a fort, hence the name “Fort Hare”. In 2015, The Pan African Congress (PAC) in the Eastern Cape wanted UFH to be renamed to Robert Sobukwe University. The PAC says that Colonel Hare killed and oppressed black people for many years and do not see the need for him to be honoured by having the institution named after him.

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4. Some of Africa’s greatest are Fort Hare graduates
It provided higher education learning for African, coloured and Indian students who passed high school with university exemption. The University of Fort Hare produced graduates from South Africa and as far north as Kenya and Uganda, who knew they were as good as the best. Many went on to prominent careers in fields as diverse as politics, medicine, literature and art.

“I am humbled to have walked among some of the greatest minds to emerge from this university; to have known giants like Nelson Mandela, Sir Seretse Khama, Dr Ntatho Motlana, Ms Sally Maunye, Mr Duma Nokwe, Ms Tiny Malangabi, Mr Can Themba, Mr Alfred Hutchinson, Mr Joe Vincent Matthews, Mr Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Mr Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Dr Munyua Waiyaki, Dr Njoroge Mungai, Mr Orton Chirwa and Mr Ntsu Mokhehle. This list is too long to continue”, said Mangosuthu Buthelezi in a speech marking the centenary celebrations in February.

5. The first black staff member, Don Davidson Tengo Jabavu
The son of John Tengo Jabavu, a politician who also became a journalist, he was also one of the co-founders of the institution. Jabavu obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree at London University and teacher’s certificate at Birmingham University in Britain. He returned to South Africa and took up a teaching position in languages and was the first black professor at the University of Fort Hare

6. ZK Matthews – the first black graduate from the university
Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews became the first black person to graduate from the institution in 1923 and the first black graduate from a South African university. Matthews was appointed principal of Adams College after his graduation. He was the first African to head a missionary school in the country. In the 1950s, Matthews was appointed as an acting principal at Fort Hare, but only stayed until the year 1959 when he resigned.

7. It merged with Rhodes University at one point
In March 1951, Rhodes University and Fort Hare became affiliated.This came after the Union Government had an inquiry into the future of the structure of university education in South Africa. At that time, Rhodes University was one of the independent universities and Fort Hare was going to have the same academic standards they had. This mutually beneficial arrangement continued until the apartheid government decided to disaffiliate Fort Hare from Rhodes.

8. It became the stepping stone to building more black universities
The large number of graduates from the institution revealed the need for more institutions of higher learning for black people. The Union Government then decided to establish several more universities. Five university colleges were established – including one for coloured people in the Western Cape and one for Indian people in Kwazulu Natal. African people got three more: one for the Sotho in Transvaal, one for the Zulu tribe in Kwazulu Natal and for the Xhosa tribe in Transkei (Eastern Cape).

Featured image and additional image via Wikimedia Commons