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ANC Pays homage to Fort Hare University on occasion of its centenary

05 February 2016

The African National Congress congratulates the University of Fort Hare on this the 100th anniversary of the founding of this august institution that has historically and continues to play a leading role in the development of South Africa. On the occasion of the centenary of the University of Fort Hare, the ANC calls on institutions of higher learning to reclaim their critical space in public life as centers of excellence, incubators of leadership, and as torch-bearers of progress towards the fulfillment of the National Democratic Revolution.

Established in 1916 and originally called the South African Native College (SANC), the university over the years attracted a range of students of various political, religious and cultural backgrounds who were drawn to its unashamedly Africanist academic tradition and 'culture of non-racism, critical debate and of aspiration towards educational excellence.

This historically black university in the small town of Alice in the Eastern Cape, with its long tradition of academic excellence was recognized as one of the most prestigious institutes of higher learning on the African continent and produced graduates that went on to play formative roles in the history of their countries, both in South Africa and way beyond its borders. Fort Hare alumni included leaders of fraternal liberation movements and governments across the continent, who went on to become great statesmen, including amongst them, Julius Nyerere, Seretse Khama, Yusuf Lule, Robert Mugabe and Kenneth Kaunda. Legendary black academics like ZK Matthews and D D T Jabavu played a leading role in campus life - igniting the passion for social justice and political activism in their students.

It was at the University of Fort Hare that the late former President Cde. Nelson Mandela enrolled in 1939, after graduating from Healdtown Methodist Boarding College. Cde. Mandela would go on to meet fellow students, Comrades Oliver Tambo and Govan Mbeki. It was the start of lifelong friendships forged in the fires of struggle, and they would go on to spend their formative years engaged in critical debate and intellectual exchange. Writing in his autobiography, Cde. Mandela said; "For young black South Africans like myself, it was Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, all rolled into one."

At a time when issues around access to higher education are playing an increasingly prominent role in public life, the ANC affirms the importance of universities not only in the realization of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society - but in accelerating progress and advancement across South African society as a whole.

The proud history of the University of Fort Hare, and the luminaries it has and continues to produce, are an affirmation of the critical role universities and college play in building a better, more prosperous society. As we mark 100 years since the establishment of the University of Fort Hare, we are simultaneously acknowledging the role played by students in building the South Africa of the future.

The progressive policies of the ANC must continue to ensure that the curricula in South Africa's institutions of higher learning continue to equip South African students and scholars with the critical skills needed to solve the most pressing issues of our time.

Given the important role institutions of higher learning play communities in which they are located and not remaining aloof from the socio-economic conditions around them, the university's faculty of Agriculture, for example, is internationally renowned for its work around agrarian development and land reform in and around the Eastern Cape.

The Fort Hare Dairy Trust, started in 2007, is an economically viable commercial dairy operation that has equipped black farm workers with the commercial and other skills necessary to become successful farm managers and owners. The project also provides research opportunities for agricultural graduates.

The university is also a repository of several important archives and historical records, including the ANC Archives.

The University of Fort Hare continues to affirm the principle: "By teaching you will learn, and by learning you will teach" . On 25th April 2005 the University of Fort Hare received the Supreme Order of the Baobab (Gold Class) in recognition of its role in academic and leadership training of of men and women in South Africa and Southern Africa.

At a time when black South Africans were only deemed worthy of inferior standards of education, the faculty of Fort Hare were uncompromising in their adherence to standards of academic excellence, but most importantly, in instilling in their students an altruistic worldview that was not self-centered, but dedicated to the betterment of their fellow man.

The role of academia has always been to challenge the status quo, and the history of the University of Fort Hare serves as an inspiration to all who are committed to the values of justice, human welfare and building a new future for their country.

In late 2015 South Africa witnessed a rejuvenation of student activism at campuses across the country, as young people stood up to boldly claim not only their rights but those of fellow students and of university workers.The activism of young South Africans in the cause of building a more inclusive South Africa once again draws attention to the need for academia to play a more prominent and active role in sustaining the nation-building project.

Universities should be engines of progress, not ivory towers. it is a role they have played throughout history and as recent events in South Africa have shown, they are forces of social change. The ANC once again calls on students and academia to use their learning for the betterment of all South Africans.

In his 1949 speech as President of the Students' Representative Council, the late revered struggle hero, Robert Sobukwe said: "Education to us means service to Africa." To the students he said: "You have a mission; we all have a mission. A nation to build we have, a God to glorify, a contribution clear to make towards the blessing of mankind. We must be the embodiment of our people's aspirations. And all we are required to do is show the light and the masses will find the way."


Zizi Kodwa 082 330 4910