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University of Fort Hare


Towards the end of the 18th century, in the heart of that region which lies between the Great Fish and the Great Kei rivers, modern civilization, introduced by an English missionary, made its first contact with the African. Twenty years later he was followed by others, and a number of centres of Christian teaching were established in what is now the Cape Province. In 1841 the Glasgow Missionary Society founded a centre which before the end of the 19th century had grown to be the largest of its kind in Africa. This was the celebrated Lovedale Institution, devoted to the instruction and training of Africans and others. Lovedale became closely flanked by two similar institutions — Healdtown and St. Matthews — now important educational establishments; later, in the same area, Emgwali, for girls only, followed. Thus, within a circle of fifty miles radius, provision had been made for training ministers, teachers, clerks, farmers, house-builders, blacksmiths, shoemakers, dressmakers, domestic servants, and other workers.

On the banks of the Tyumie river, forming a triangle with Lovedale and the village of Alice, was the long abandoned site of the largest of the forts constructed in the territory formerly known as Kaffraria during the frontier wars of the 19th century. Built on a rock platform on an open plateau, moated by the wide arc of the Tyumie on its northern and western sides, and with Sandile's Kop a magnificent lookout, Fort Hare thus guarded the ford across the Tyumie on the vulnerable military road linking the series of forts northwards from King William's Town, headquarters of the Eastern Frontier Forces. The site, moreover, was near the kraal of the noted Chief Ngqika when the first mission was established in 1799.

When Sir Peregrine Maitland, the founder of the military station named after Colonel Hare, sanctioned its construction, he desired that a settlement be made on the opposite bank of the Tyumie. He further instructed that land should be placed at the disposal of settlers. But in consequence of the 1846 war nothing was done until, in May 1847, Alice came into existence in the area known by the local name of iDikeni (at the lake). At this early date it seems to have been little more than the headquarters of a few police, but in due course it became a municipality — long before Johannesburg was thought of — and celebrated its centenary with a visit of the Royal Family.

Under leadership which now included various missionary churches and a philanthropic group of Europeans and Africans, a scheme was formed in 1905 to found a college, principally for Africans, in one of the four colonies later to form the Union of South Africa. After ten years of discussion and planning, and in spite of delays occasioned by the formation of the Union and later by the onset of World War I, the South African Native College was declared open in 1916 by General Louis Botha, Prime Minister of South Africa. And so the site of the college, the subject of protracted discussion, was finally located thanks to the generosity of the Church of Scotland (granted the area in the eighties) in the historic region where African education had been first conceived and most developed.

Fort Hare as a college had of course only a very small and tentative beginning. Nor did great expectations blind the promoters to the dangers of premature or grandiose building schemes. Some doubted the ability of the African to undertake other than simple studies. The missionaries themselves, who best knew the people and their impulsive though short-lived enthusiasms, were somewhat apprehensive. The first call for prospective students brought only a score of qualified applicants, drawn from every province of the far-spreading Union, of whom few had more than two years of secondary schooling. Yet, inspired by the words of the great negro educationist, Dr. Booker T. Washington — 'Let down your bucket where you are' — a start was made by the college at two levels. While a few were prepared for university entrance, the majority had to make good the deficiencies of their post-primary education or to study for diplomas in commerce or agriculture. Full-time staff numbered two; classes were held in a small bungalow which was to be 'home' for the first five years. Eight years later a student who had earlier studied for matriculation at the college qualified for the B.A. degree of the University of South Africa.

In 1923 the college was incorporated as an institution for higher education under the Education Act of that year. Students were prepared for the degrees of the University of South Africa, a federal university consisting of a number of constituent colleges — Cape Town, Stellenbosch, and Witwatersrand were already independent universities. Fort Hare was not one of these colleges, and its students were registered as external students. The university, however, eventually allowed to Fort Hare some of the privileges granted to the constituent colleges.

Five members of the staff of Fort Hare were appointed as additional members of the Boards of Faculties of the Senate of the University, thus giving them a share in the framing of regulations, syllabuses, and courses of study. Further, professors and lecturers of the college were accorded the status of internal examiners. Students were granted, inter alia, certain privileges afforded internal students, and Fort Hare was recognized as an approved institution of training for the University Education Diploma. Although from 1924 the college assumed the dual role of a secondary school and a university college, by 1937 it was possible to concentrate on the studies of a higher education programme.

Beginning in 1921, buildings were erected: for arts and science, a library named after a great Johannesburg liberal of bygone days, Howard Pim, and the F. S. Malan Anthropological Museum, together with an assembly hall, dining hall, three hostels for men, one for women — all built to a master plan drawn up by the Department of Public Works, until capable of extension and addition. There were now thirty staff houses. While substantial contributions have been made by donors, the main financing apart from government subsidy has been that of the three co-operating churches, In addition, the Y.M.C.A.'s of the United States and Canada provided a Christian Union building.

Between 1937 and 1951 development was retarded through the absence of staff on war service and because of financial stringency. Yet by 1950 the Student roll had increased from 139 to 382.

As it became clear that some of the constituent colleges of the University of South Africa would eventually branch out into independent universities, the government appointed a commission to report upon the future institutions of higher education in South Africa. This commission recommended that the existing constituent colleges, with the exception of Huguenot University College, should be accorded independent university status and Fort Hare affiliated to one of the Independent universities. In March, 1951 Fort Hare became allied to its nearest friend and neighbour, Rhodes University, sixty miles (96 km) away. This association has been most valuable to Fort Hare.

[Extracted from Lantern]



Dr. James Stewart of Lovedale realized that "if the desire for education among the African people continued to grow it would be necessary to provide University education." He stressed this point of view to the Inter-Colonial Native Affairs Commission.


On December 28, a week after the death of Dr. Stewart, a convention of 160 representative of various States and organizations was held at Lovedale to consider the recommendation of the Inter-Colonial Native Affairs Commission that a Central College or a similar institution be established. The meeting resolved to send a petition to the High Commissioner and to the various colonial Governments of South Africa, praying that an Inter-State Native college be established.


A conference, followed by an Executive Board, met in the early days of October 1907, in King William’s Town. It was "anticipated that the proposed college would teach greater co-operation between racial groups."

The United Free Church of Scotland promised a hostel and, as part of a 5000-pound sterling contribution offered the site of Fort Hare.

"Other sites had also been suggested, including Bloemfontein, Kroonstad, Potchefstroom and Maseru; the Transkeian Representatives supported the suggestion to accept the Fort hare site because they claimed it had been made by the people most competent to choose."


The South African Native College on the site of Fort Hare opens its doors.

The first principal was Mr. Alexander Kerr, a graduate of Edinburgh University and a teacher trained at Moray House. His only full-time staff assistant was Mr. D. D. T. Jabavu, son of one of the founders of the college, whose qualifications included a London University English Honours degree, and Education Diploma of Birmingham University, and considerable first-hand knowledge of American educational systems. The new college offered course to students studying for Matriculation, Agricultural and Business Diplomas, and later, for the degree of Bachelor of Arts.

"The first students were drawn from every province of the far-spreading Union and Basutoland. There were 16 African men, two African women and two European men. None of them had matriculated. Although a few were being prepared for university entrance, most of them had to strengthen their post-primary education or to study for diplomas in Commerce or Agriculture. It was eight years after the opening of the College before a student obtained the B.A. degree of the University of South Africa. Four months after the opening of the College, Council agreed to accept Indian and Coloured students. For five years classes were held in a small bungalow. From 1916 to 1936 the College continued to provide Secondary School education."


Beda Hall, the Anglican Hostel is built. The rondavel chapel is added in 1935.


Wesley House, the Methodist Hostel is built.


Iona, the Presbyterian hostel is built.

Z.K Matthews receives the first degree awarded by the South African Native College.


On September 25th, 1925, General Hertzog, accompanied by the Hon. N.C. Havenga, Minister of Finance, laid the foundation stone of a Dining Hall.


Honeydale Farm (1250 acres (506 hectare)) was purchased and a small dairy herd established.


The Christian Union building is donated by the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) of North American and Canada.


Govan Mbeki graduates with a Diploma in Education.


ZK Matthews is appointed lecturer in Anthropology and Bantu Law and Administration.


Livingstone Hall is built.


The Second World War provides the spark for many campus debates and has tremendous impact on politicizing the student body (Joe Matthews).


Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo meet at Fort Hare. Though they see little of each other because they live in different hostels, they travel together into the neighbouring communities to teach bible studies.


Kaiser Daliwong Matanzima is awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in politics and Roman Dutch Law.


Elukhanyisweni, the women's hostel is built.

Nelson Mandela leaves the university. Oliver Tambo is awarded a Bachelor of Science degree.


Henderson Hall is built with funds from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It houses the F.S. Malan Museum and the Howard Pim Library.

"It is interesting to note that Henderson Hall was built by Non-European journeymen and apprentices trained at Lovedale."


Nelson Mandela who completed his degree externally is awarded a Bachelor of Arts in Native Administration and Politics.


ZK Matthews is appointed Vice-Chairman of Senate at Fort Hare.


Fort Hare becomes affiliated with Rhodes University and the name changes to the University College of Fort Hare.


Under the University Education Act 61, Fort Hare qualifies as a University institution.

Fort Hare is closed for one month following serious acts of indiscipline by the student body.

ZK Matthews is elected as acting principal.


ZK Matthews goes on trial for treason.

The Extension of University Education Bill is introduced, which "would appear to empower the state to control the staff and students of university colleges.

"Government control is needed energetically to cope with smouldering and undesirable ideological development."

"The colleges must prevent a spirit of equality arising."

Pronouncements made by Government members of Parliament, regarding government control of Fort Hare.


Fort Hare council refuses to introduce salary differentiation on the basis of colour, and meets the cost of bringing all salaries up to the standard for Europeans set by the Department of Education, Arts, and Science.

In a ceremony of mourning over the imminent government take-over of Fort Hare, a final assembly of the University College of Fort Hare is held on 28 October. A plaque is placed in Livingstone Hall to commemorate those who worked with Fort Hare from its inception to 1959.


On January 1st, the government, under the Department of Bantu Education, takes control of Fort Hare.

"Unfortunately, however, the College has always been handicapped by lack of funds…"

"Earlier that year (1956), even the University Advisory committee on account of the imminent introduction of legislation affecting non-European [sic] education was unable to secure the recognition of Bantu languages as a Basic Department for subsidy purposes, or a second chair in the Department of Education. Clearly, the development of the college was being seriously handicapped by uncertainty attaching to threatened changes."

"Fort Hare…was a beacon for African scholars from all over Southern, Central and Eastern Africa. For young black South Africans like myself, it was Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, all rolled into one (extract from: Mandela, N. 1995. The Long Walk to Freedom. Macdonald Purnell)

"The regent was anxious for me to attend Fort Hare, and I was pleased to be accepted there. Before I went up to the university, the regent bought me my first suit. Double-breasted and grey, the suit made me feel grown-up and sophisticated; I was twenty-one years old and could not imagine anyone at Fort Hare smarter than I." (extract from: Mandela, N. 1995. The Long Walk to Freedom. Macdonald Purnell)


A gallery of contemporary African art was added to F.S. Malan Museum.


Professor De Wet, a member of the Broederbond, is appointed principal after professor Ross retires. His installation ceremony is boycotted by students.


Full University status was enacted and the College became the University of Fort Hare.

The seventies introduced a new era of development when the total student enrolment more than doubled during the first half of the decade, namely from 613 in 1970 to 1320 in 1975.

Since 1975 five Black members have been nominated to the Council of the University.


An extensive road building and campus development programme was commenced.

New departments in the fields of Music, Fine Arts, Applied Computer Science and Biochemistry were created.


A branch of the University was established in Umtata, which became the nucleus of the autonomous University of Transkei on 1 January 1977.

The Public Relations division of the University published the first volume of a twice-yearly newspaper, the Fort Harian.


Students protest at the impending independence of the Ciskei, the university closes.


Ciskei became an independent Republic and the Department of Education and Training of the Republic of South Africa entered into an agreement to administer the University for an initial period of five years.

The Centre for Xhosa Literature was established.

The book stock in the Library amounted to more than 100 000 volumes.


The new Arts Block was opened and the two Natural Science buildings were completed.


Indoor Sports Complex was completed.


The University of Fort Hare Act was amended in the National Assembly, Bisho, removing all references to race and giving the University Council financial autonomy.

Staff Amenities Building was built.


More than 3 000 students, excluding post-graduates and late registrations, have registered at the University for the 1988 academic year.

A senior lecturer, Dr. Amos Mdebuka, became the first person to graduate from the university with a doctorate of physics.


New De Beers Centenary Art Gallery opened. The inauguration brochure contained 70 black artists whose works were among the collection.


The appointment of a new University council marked the end of Bantu education. Fort Hare autonomy was restored.

Prof Sbusiso Bengu is appointed the first black principal of Fort Hare and Oliver Tambo accepts the position of Chancellor.


Oliver Tambo, the President-General of ANC, has been appointed the chancellor of the University – 49 years after he was expelled form the institution.

Professor Sibusiso Bengu has taken up his post as the institution's rector and vice chancellor.


Oliver Tambo conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Law on his long-time colleague, Nelson Mandela.

The first major book on black South African Art, Images of Man, written by Prof. Eddie de Jager (African Studies Department), was published.

Fort Hare University has become the custodian of the archives of two leading political liberation movements, the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress.

SOMAFCO collection arrived at Fort Hare.


Opening of the ANC Archives by Vice-President T. Mbeki on behalf of President N. Mandela.


The National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre is opened.


After several weeks of demonstrations, the Registrar, Vice Chancellor, and Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic are removed from their posts. Mr. Alan Shaw and Professor Derrick Swartz take up the posts of Registrar and Vice Chancellor, respectively.

The process of transforming the university begins.


A review of all university structure and programs is undertaken and published as the Fort Hare Review.


Strategic planning based on the Fort Hare Review is started culminating in the Strategic Plan 2000 (SP2000).

An implementation plan published as the Institutional Operation Plan is set in motion with the development of the Implementation Control Centre located in Livingston Hall.

The Strategic Plan 2000 (SP2000) is launched providing a blueprint for the transformation of the university.


President Thabo Mbeki delivers the inaugural address at the first ZK Matthews Memorial Lecture.


The first Alumni Homecoming event is held at the Main campus.


The first Robert Sobukwe Memorial Lecture is held.


Under the restructuring of the Higher Education sector, Fort Hare incorporates Rhodes University's East London campus.


President Thabo Mbeki confers the Supreme Order of the Baobab (Gold) on Fort Hare for its contribution to black training and leadership development on the African continent.


On the 8th February the university celebrates its 90th birthday.

On 20th June IONA house is destroyed by fire. The hostel is later rebuilt and opened the following year.

In September the Miriam Makeba Center of Performing Arts is opened in East London.


Chronology compiled by Mark P Snyders, Archivist, National Heritage and Cultural Studies Center at the University of Fort Hare, 2011. Information prior to 1959 was largely sourced from: Burrows, H. R. 1961. Short pictorial history of the University College of Fort Hare 1916-1959. Lovedale: Lovedale Press.

Submitted by William MARTINSON

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