University of Fort Hare

University of Fort Hare

name = University of Fort Hare

image_size = 160px
motto = In lumine tuo videbimus lumen ("In Thy light we shall see the light")
established = 1916
type = Public university
vice_chancellor = Dr Mvuyo Tom
students = 6000
city = Alice
state = Eastern Cape
country = South Africa
website =

Fort Hare University in South Africa was a key institution in higher education for black Africans from 1916 to 1959. It offered a Western-style, academically excellent education to students from across sub-Saharan Africa, creating a black African elite. Fort Hare alumni were part of many subsequent independence movements and governments of newly independent African countries.

In 1959, the university was subsumed by the apartheid system, but it is now part of South Africa's post-apartheid education system. The University is located on the Tyhume river, in a town known as Alice in English and eDikeni in Xhosa language. It is in the Eastern Cape Province about 50 km west of King Williams Town (or eQonce) in a region that for a while was known as the "independent" Bantustan of Ciskei.

The Fort

Originally, Fort Hare was a British fort in the wars between British and the Xhosa of the 19th century. Some of the ruins of the fort are still visible today. Missionary activity (James Stewart) led to the creation of a school for missionaries from which at the beginning of the 20th century the university resulted. In accord with its Christian principles, fees are minimal and heavily subsidised. Several scholarships were also available for indigent students.


Fort Hare is one of the oldest universities in southern Africa, and was the first Western-style tertiary education institution in the whole continent to be open to non-white students. (African madrasahs have been teaching Islam and other subjects, at a scholarly level, to all races since the 9th century.) A number of notable students have attended Fort Hare, including some who were expelled for protests during the period of white minority rule and thus did not graduate.

Anti-apartheid activity

In the struggle years there was much anti-apartheid activity, including the Black Consciousness Movement of Steve Biko. A few students became politically active and opposed the apartheid authorities who enjoyed the unqualified support of the Fort Hare authorities since it became a University in 1972.

Fort Hare past and present

Many forces have interacted in the Eastern Cape. Incoming Afrikaners and British met with Xhosa-speakers in the eighteenth century, and the long process of conflict, followed by the subordination and expropriation of the indigenous people, took place over more that one hundred years. An important British base at this time, named after a military officer, was Fort Hare, near which grew the small town of Alice.

The process of colonization and expropriation was paradoxical. Brutal military conquest, and integration of the population into the colonial economy, was accompanied by the spread of Christianity. The missionaries who carried the new ideas were themselves part of colonial expansion, but brought with them a creed which was taken by Africans and forged into a tool for grappling with the challenges of the colonial world. The South African Native College, later the University of Fort Hare, was, ironically, founded in 1916 on the site of the earlier British military stronghold. The College originated from the sometimes uneasy alliance between the new class of educated African Christians, supported by a number of traditional Southern African leaders, and early twentieth-century white liberals, many of them clergy.

The religious tradition at the heart of Fort Hare’s origin, shared by black and white, stood at its best for ‘plain living and high thinking’, and for education that was undeniably Eurocentric. But it did not make the assumption, central to the Bantu Education implemented in South Africa from the 1950s, that black Africans required and deserve a different, inferior education.

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. Some politically-active alumni like Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Robert Sobukwe and Mangosuthu Buthelezi in South Africa, Robert Mugabe and Herbert Chitepo in Zimbabwe, and Elius Mathu and Charles Njonjo in Kenya, are well known. But, to name examples, there are also, from South Africa, the poet Dennis Brutus, the Drum journalist Can Themba, the sculptor and painter Ernest Mancoba and the Xhosa author and scholar Archibald Campbell Jordan. The first black Zimbabwean medical doctor, Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa, and the historian, novelist and politician Stanlake Samkange, were among the many non-South Africans who spent formative years at Fort Hare.

Though Fort Hare operated in an environment of racial segregation even before apartheid, the college contained the seeds of a more tolerant South Africa. It was as racially inclusive as it could be at the time, with Black, Coloured and Indian students; it had men and women students from the beginning; its mainly White staff included black academics like ZK Matthews and DDT Jabavu; students’ home languages ranged through Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Afrikaans and many others.

The takeover of the college in 1959-60 by the National Party government put an end to these achievements. Fort Hare was transformed into an ethnic college for Xhosa speakers. Outspoken staff members were expelled and a new administration, conspicuously loyal to the government and intent on imposing its world-view, was installed. The campus grew over the next three decades, and student numbers rose, but Fort Hare was reduced to the level of “Bush Colleges’ that the government proceeded to institute in many homelands. In a parody of true academic maturity, Fort Hare became in 1970, self-governing and ‘independent’. With the creation of Ciskei in 1980, Fort Hare became the university of a microstate, recognized only by its fellow Bantustans and by South Africa’s minority government, a marked decline from its previous status as the greatest centre of black higher education in Southern and Eastern Africa.

The values and traditions of Fort Hare were embattled after 1960. The apartheid state made a determined attack upon the institution and did immense damage. However, some continuities of its unique and proud historical traditions of non-racism, critical debate and aspiration towards educational excellence were never eliminated and these are now being nurtured and built upon

The tradition survived, firstly, amongst the students and a small but growing number of progressive academics. Many rejected the attempt to turn Fort Hare into an ethnic institution, and from various directions – political, religious and cultural – kept alive a spirit of opposition. In the 1960s various African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress aligned organizations emerged and were quickly suppressed. Subsequently, Fort Hare became a stronghold of the Black Consciousness oriented South African Students’ Organisation. Later still, there were constant protests by students, brutally suppressed, against the Ciskei homeland regime.

The tradition survived, also, in the affection and loyalty of people towards Fort Hare, and, when the opportunity arose after 1990 when the apartheid-era administration was expelled, opted to work here. These included Sibusiso Bengu, the first black Vice Chancellor of the new dispensation, later Minister of Education and currently the University Chancellor; Makhenkesi Stofile, the Minister of Sport and Recreation; and Sipho Pityana, Registrar in the early 1990’s. It survived in the creation of a new Pan-Africanism and internationalism, with learners from Zimbabwe to Eritrea, and staff from all over Africa and the world. Many came because they knew of Fort Hare’s historical reputation and wanted to contribute to its newfound opportunities towards renaissance. It survives in the remarkable archival records at Fort Hare, made up of the papers of the ANC and other liberation movements in exile. The archives of the university itself record an extraordinary and sustained educational achievement, forming a corporate memory now being made accessible to scholars.

This tradition survived especially notably in the University’s determination, under dynamic new leadership since 1999, to pull back from the brink of institutional collapse, to refute any misconceived national attempt at higher education rationalization that would cause it to fade away or disallow its distinctive voice to be heard. To contemporary Fort Hare, it is important to acknowledge, record and question its history, and to extract the most liberating, enriching and valuable elements from its history as building blocks towards a radically modernized institution. In the process it is building on the real strengths of its historical inheritance, geographical locations, stakeholder constituencies and committed workforce, and does not rely on a nostalgic invocation of previous glory.

The university is redefining its role as the producer and disseminator of new knowledge, particularly focusing on its central place in the reshaping of post apartheid South Africa, and repositioning itself as empowerment agent in the political, economic, cultural and social revolution that is unfolding in the subcontinent and beyond. Its curriculum and research agenda is being tuned to resonate with the contextual social renaissance, both by stimulating it and by being responsive to it. At the same time it is utterly conscious of the need to engage and partner with the surrounding communities and region in a serving capacity and to extend into society at large through interesting new interconnections.

Following a decision by the Ministry of Education, the university has, since January 2004, been incorporating and integrating a new campus in the city of East London, formerly of Rhodes University, into UFH. This significant development in a new larger operating environment presents significant challenges as well as a set of strategic opportunities for the calculated expansion of UFH into new markets, enabling it to play a stimulating and catalytic role in the development of the city. Hence it is strategically planning to grow and develop programmes in a much wider student market and is re-profiling Fort Hare across the three campuses in Alice, Bhisho and East London. As the backbone to a new academic system, five new Faculties were being established in 2005-6. Over the next period significant expansion in the portfolio of academic and strategic programmes are foreseen.

University of Fort Hare Strategic Plan 2000

The programme launched by Prof. Swartz was the "UFH Strategic Plan 2000". The plan was meant to address the universities financial situation and academic quality standards simultaneously. The focus of the university was narrowed and consequently 5 faculties remained:
* Education
* Science and Agriculture
* Social Sciences & Humanities
* Management & Commerce
* Faculty of Law

Further narrowing the focus, 14 institutes have been founded to deal with specific issues, such as the "UNESCO Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights". Through their location the institutes have excellent access to poor rural areas, and consequently emphasis is placed on the role of research in improving quality of life and economic growth (and especially sustainable job creation). Among the outreach programmes, the Telkom Centre of Excellence maintains a "living laboratory" of 4 schools at Dwesa on the Wild Coast, which have introduced computer labs and internet access to areas that until 2005 did not even have electricity. The projects at Dwesa focus research on Information and Communication for Development (ICD).

Notable alumni

(Others, unknown DOB)

* Tiyo Soga - religion, Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa
* K. Mokhele - science
* Don Ncube - business

See also: List of universities in South Africa

External links

* [ Official website]
* [ Promotional site]
* [ Some Fort Hare alumni]

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