Message from the Vice-Chancellor

I extend a warm welcome to new as well as returning students who will be taking up their studies in 2018 at our University on the banks of the Tyhume River on our main campus in Alice, in the harbour setting of the emerging precinct of our East London campus, or close to our provincial corridors of power in Bhisho. I also wish to welcome new and current staff after a well-deserved summer break.


As you know, Fort Hare occupies a truly special place in the South African, and indeed the African and international social imaginary. As an incubator of both critical scholarship and astute leadership, Fort Hare sparked sweeping change across our continent in pursuit of political sovereignty and social justice. This heritage has been an ongoing source of inspiration and sustenance for the Fort Hare community. We will continue to draw on these values as we get to work in 2018.


Yet, what we make of and what we do with this illustrious legacy is neither self-evident nor uncomplicated. In crafting a future for ourselves and our institution, it is imperative that we remain anchored to this heritage, but without adopting a backward-looking orientation. This is essential, as we have to square up unflinchingly and with courage to the challenges of the present. Our university sector is reeling from underfunding and expansion pressures. Our democratic dispensation is taking strain as a result of current political tensions as well as the enormous task of redressing the unjust legacy of the past. Simultaneously, a broad range of social and technological changes is introducing rapid and far-reaching global shifts affecting the quality of our social fabric and the shape of economic organization. This requires rethinking and remapping the place and form of universities.

 

Reorienting and strengthening Fort Hare to respond to this environment will require sustained hard work. Collectively we can do this, of course, with the support of Council, academics, students, support service and administrative staff and our important partners and stakeholders, locally and internationally. Our alumni, in particular, play a really important role in holding us to task and carrying the flag for their alma mater.
A special focus area for 2018 is the renewal of Alice. To concretize this goal, we recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality and the Eastern Cape Department of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs. We are deeply pleased about this opportunity to be able to tackle our problems together. In many ways, the relationship between the university and the town is symbiotic – one cannot thrive whilst the other languishes. We are pouring much energy into this partnership, hoping to build a vibrant student town that honours its past and serves all its people.

 

In addition, we are committed to creating safer and better serviced facilities on all three campuses. This is a huge undertaking and includes costly and large-scale infrastructure expansion and repairs. The backlog is significant and this kind of work is difficult. Finalization of projects is often painstakingly slow. We are also not unconstrained in our efforts, and have to make do in ways that do not overcommit our scarce resources. I ask you, therefore, to bear with us. We have a clear vision and have set in place well-crafted plans to reach our goal. It may not all happen at once,but the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is a non-negotiable priority. We hope that there will be a collective sigh of relief and the rekindling of hopefulness when our new water reservoir on the Alice campus is put into service. I want to encourage our undergraduate students to make the most of their formative years. Be curious beyond your prescribed and delineated curriculum; read widely; immerse yourself in cultural life and recreation and sports opportunities. Build friendships and find ways to engage with the critical questions of your time and place. To our postgraduate students, I want to say that we know that you will be central in pushing the frontiers of research and knowledge. In many ways, the future of the academy, which is a repository of the hopes and aspirations of our nation and our subcontinent, depends on your efforts.


At the core of the university is its academic staff, who have a most demanding set of responsibilities. The life of a scholar is a juggling act - mentoring students, producing vital research that expands our knowledge base, and linking teaching and research to social and community responsiveness. Moreover, academics are also required to meet growing administrative demands. We are aware of the pressures created by the latter, which, whilst sometimes dispiriting, nevertheless remains essential to our functionality and funding security.

The integrity and efficiency of our work relies on the commitment of our administrative staff, who keep the wheels rolling in so many different ways. I know that you sometimes have to bear the brunt of our difficulties. Thank you for your efforts and I hope that we can jointly tackle our problems and create an institutional culture based on trust and openness. We have many stalwarts at Fort Hare; people who have been with the institution through good and bad times. I know you hold the institution dear. We will be mindful of your hopes and concerns. At the same time, we are excited about the injection of energy by a new generation of staff entering the institution.
Improving the physical and social environment of our campuses is only the backdrop to our real reason for existence. We value the cultivation of a thriving intellectual culture, based on the exchange of ideas, and the pioneering and piloting of theoretical and applied knowledge. In so doing, we envisage Fort Hare as an open and outward-looking institution, thus encouraging conversations and partnerships across institutions and borders. We want to be responsive to our own problems and challenges, but be so in a manner that contributes to more sustainable and equitable societies worldwide.

I wish you all a productive and prosperous 2018.


Professor Sakhela Buhlungu

Vice-Chancellor and Principal