Media release

Minister Jeff Radebe: University of Fort Hare Centenary Inter-Ministerial media briefing

18 May 2016

Media Statement by the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Mr Jeff Radebe, at the University of Fort Hare Centenary Inter-Ministerial Media Briefing
Wednesday 18 May 2016

Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Premier of the Eastern Cape
Vice Chancellor
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning,

Welcome to a briefing by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on the University of Fort Hare (UFH) Centenary Celebrations.

In November last year, President Jacob Zuma established the IMC to plan and coordinate the historic UFH centenary celebrations. The IMC comprises 11 Ministers and was tasked to oversee plans for the institution’s centenary celebrations set for Friday, 20 May 2016.

State of readiness

The university opened its doors in 1916 and is holding a year-long programme of events to showcase its rich 100-year history. The opening events to kick-start the centenary celebrations were held on 8 February 2016 while the national and Southern African Development Community celebrations will take place on Friday, 20 May 2016. The celebrations are being held under the theme “Celebrating 100 Years of Academic Excellence.”

President Zuma will deliver the keynote address at the formal event, while the President of Zimbabwe, Mr Robert Mugabe, is expected to speak as an alumnus of the university. Other alumni, who include African leaders, are expected to attend the event. 

This centenary event coincides with Africa Month, which commemorates the founding of the then Organisation of African Unity, now called the African Union (AU). The AU aims to promote greater unity and solidarity between African countries. It seeks to accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of Africa.

The main event will take place at the Sports Complex of the UFH’s Alice Campus, with 2 500 attendees and an additional 1 000 members of the public hosted in the overflow marquee. An off-site venue will be provided in East London for students from other UFH campuses. Invitations have been issued and the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) is tracking confirmations. The cultural programme will feature popular South African musicians, including Nathi, Ringo Madlingozi and Mahotella Queens.

The Department of Science and Technology has commissioned three publications detailing the history of the UFH, including a number of short but comprehensive biographies of selected luminaries. The books will be launched in November this year.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) is overseeing the repairs to the Theology Building, the Fine Arts building and the Sports Complex, the installation of flagpoles and repairs to Livingstone Hall, Henderson Hall, Stewart Hall and the Staff Centre. The DPW is also working with the Department of Public Enterprises and has commissioned Transnet to undertake the restoration of the ZK Matthews House.  President Zuma will unveil the artistic impression of the renovation on the morning of 20 May.

The UFH provided intellectuals opportunities that were restricted outside the campus, and it encouraged young leadership to rise beyond the limitations set by the colonial masters to have a dream of how a free society could be like. ZK Matthews became one of the first graduates of the university and later became a lecturer at the college. He would later, in the 1950s, play a pivotal role in the crafting of the Freedom Charter and played a significant role in shaping the intellectual mindset of the students at the UFH and inevitably played a mentoring role.

The DAC has started restoring the gravesites of Chief Tyali and John Knox Bokwe memorial sites, which will be completed during Heritage Month in September 2016. These memorial sites are part of preserving our heritage and the legacy of individuals who contributed to the formation of the UFH.

Infrastructure development at the UFH

Additional projects include the construction of a library to be shared by the Walter Sisulu University, UFH and UNISA. A new building to support the Early Childhood Development (ECD)/Foundation Phase is being constructed at the East London campus of the UFH and will also house facilities to support the development of bilingual English/mother tongue teachers.

In December last year, Cabinet approved the policy on ECD. The policy presents 15 strategic objectives to ensure universal access to ECD by 2030. Working with the Department of Higher Education and Training, the draft policy on minimum requirements for programmes will lead to the qualification of practitioners in ECD.

In February this year, the Department of Social Development launched its ECD Legacy Project with the UFH to ensure the training of ECD practitioners, mainly women, who may not have had formal education but have a wealth of experience. The Legacy Project will also serve as an on-site research centre for the implementation of the policy on ECD.


The Department of Communications has commissioned a documentary on the UFH, to be shown on SABC, starting from 17 to 20 May 2016. The Government Communication and Information System has launched the “Tell Your Story campaign” aimed at profiling alumni of the UFH. The alumni and members of the public are requested to continue telling their stories of this university and post their videos, pictures and stories on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube using the hashtag #MyFortHare. For more information members of the public can visit this website: We thank all those who have already shared their experiences.

Provincial plans going forward

The province will lead a fundraising campaign, primarily for the infrastructure legacy projects. The dynamic partnerships between the university and the community will be supported through initiatives focused on teaching and research aimed at addressing the social, cultural and economic development objectives of society. The focus is to increase third stream income and ensure a financially self-sufficient institution. Of particular interest and focus this year is the construction of two key infrastructure legacy projects, the Alice Library and Postgraduate Centre.

Curriculum development enhancement

The university is focusing on providing support to academics and students through a variety of initiatives, programmes and services in three key areas:

  • Teaching development which encapsulates professional development and professionalisation of academic staff;
  • The development of student learning; and 
  • The integration of technology enhanced learning.

Going forward, the university will focus on building research capacity in areas which complement its historical niche as an African university, whilst ensuring its internationally recognized excellence.

The Human Settlements Degree and the Faculty of Health Sciences form part of the academic legacy of the centenary. In addition, the UFH aims to expand its academic offering to include a school of veterinary and marine sciences.

More recently, a fully-fledged Faculty of Health Sciences was launched, which is designed to discover a wealth of knowledge within the domain of health sciences through rigorous scientific learning and research.

The UFH partnered with the provincial Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform and the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on the Institute of Development Assistance Management (IDAM) project launched in March 2016. The IDAM project is designed to address the need for a strong and effective support capacity for future management of South Africa’s international development cooperation in the field of agricultural and food security in neighboring countries.

Historical journey of UFH alumni

The centenary celebrations are a significant milestone for the university, which is the oldest university that catered for the black community in the country and the continent. The celebration will acknowledge the role the university has played in the fight against colonialism and apartheid. The debates that took place at the university greatly contributed in generating ideas for a free country and a continent.
Since its inception, the university has attracted a number of students from across the continent and produced Presidents such as Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Ntsu Mokhetle Prime Minister of Lesotho. University of Fort Hare has produced many intellectuals and liberation stalwarts such as former President Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Robert Sobukwe, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

From the continent Herbert Chitepo of Zimbabwe, Elius Mathu and Charles Njonjo of Kenya. Poet Dennis Brutus, Drum journalist Can Themba, sculptor and painter Ernest Mancoba and African author and scholar Archibald Campbell Jordan. The historian, novelist and politician Stanlake Samkange was also among the many non-South Africans who spent their formative years at the UFH.

Notable South African women graduates from the UFH include Thenjiwe Mtintso, Phyllis Ntantala and the late Ministers Mantombazana Tshabalala and Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi.

Concluding remarks

African people found sanctuary in this historic institution and it served as a place where they could meet, draw strength from each other and voice concerns. It produced graduates who later challenged the unjust system not only in South Africa but beyond our borders. It produced teachers, social workers, nurses, leaders and administrators for the African continent.

Oliver Tambo, on the occasion of his installation as chancellor of the UFH and on being awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws on 19 October 1991, said:

 “We had, at Fort Hare, the inestimable advantage of access to the intellectual traditions of the enlightenment, the richness of its thought, and a college blessed with men and women determined to attain the humane values implicit in that tradition.”

The celebration provides an opportunity to teach our children the importance of ideas and how these ideas can contribute to changing the trajectory of every society. The institution has demonstrated too that universities that were designed to perpetuate inequality actually played an important role to challenge the dominant discourse. This institution sheltered black people and became a space for the fight for freedom, equality and Pan Africanism. It produced graduates who later challenged the unjust system of apartheid that was founded on the principles of discrimination and segregation. It is also an opportune time for the university to reflect on how far it has gone to change its curriculum and liberate young minds, as envisioned by the then student leader Robert Sobukwe. Delivering a speech as President of the Students’ Representative Council in 1949, Sobukwe said:

“…Fort Hare (University) must be to Africans what Stellenbosch (University) is to the Afrikaner. It must be the barometer of African thought.”

The centenary celebrations take place at a time when the transformations of universities are being called for and the identities of universities are being challenged. The struggles of this university and its students demonstrate the importance of a university that is able to address challenges facing the society they are located in, and that ideas can be contested without destroying what already exists. The history also points out the importance of universities in generating and developing leaders of tomorrow.

While the majority of our youth now have access to higher education that had been denied to many black South Africans previously, we understand that more needs to be done. We are witnessing intense debates on improving access to higher education and the quality of higher education, and it is incumbent on all of us to play our part to ensure the youth of today take their rightful place as the leaders of tomorrow.
I thank you.

Nebo Legoabe

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