by Zanda Twala
Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande, Baleka Mbethe, Gaja Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Naledi Pandor are just a handful of the political VIP attendants of the University of Fort Hare’s 100 years birthday celebrations. It is a small wonder that so many top brass national politicians were in attendance, as the university has been a home for grooming African leaders in the past decades. Master of Ceremonies, Xhosa radio icon, Putco Mafani acknowledged political greats by calling out their names. Greats such as Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Robert Mangaliso Sobukhwe, Professor ZK Matthews and many others; as the 4000 seater, packed to capacity UFH Sports Complex burst into applause, in recognition of the mentioned leaders.
Eastern Cape Premier, Phumulo Masualle said that the UFH has produced large number of female alumni. The story of female alumni needs to be told as well, he said. He challenged his audience to answer the questions: “The present students, are they coming out of this institution with the same spirit of excellency that once dominated the UFH? How do we collaborate with other institutions, nationally and internationally? How do we influence, positively, our communities through the university?”
Minister Naledi Pandor, who is also the granddaughter of Professor ZK Matthews spoke briefly about her grandmother, Freeda Matthews, who was also a UFH Alumni.“But you never hear anything about her. We hardly hear anything about female alumnus. A lot of our female leaders are alumnus of the University of Fort Hare.” She said Fort Hare and the ANC are intractably linked.” I say this not because I am being political, but because it’s the truth.” When you think of the UFH, she said, you are reminded of strong black men and women who refuse to be denied education. “We have an obligation to carry on this mantle, to make sure it never dies.”
She went on to say that the university has been inclusive of all, in Africa, all gender, class and race. She urged the university to maintain that sense of inclusivity. “My department has committed to funding a book on the centenary of Fort Hare. It will be thoroughly researched by the university’s academics and we would like Love Dale Press to print it.” The minister then pledged to personally contribute finances to the UFH, annually “like many others have.”
The key speaker, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, is the leader of the IFP and also a tribal leader. The former Minster of Home Affairs expressed his sense of humbleness and joy at having had walked with greats such as Seretse Kgama, Robert Sobukhwe, Joe Vincent, Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela, at the University of Fort Hare. That was between 1947 and 1950 when he was a scholar at the institution.
He proceeded to give a lecture on Professor ZK Matthews, who was at the time his lecture. “He was the father of my dear friend, Joe Matthews. He was intimidating, and yet had a sense of humour…the epitome of dignity.”
He talked of his devastation, when he was rusticated during his final year as a UFH student. “ZK Matthews’ son, Joe Matthews was a part of the boycott that saw me rusticated. ZK Matthews kicked him out of their home and I was one of the three students who were rusticated. I was later allowed to write my final exams at the University of Durban.” He narrated.
It was said that Professor Matthews said he could tolerate discrimination between the educated and the uneducated, because then, those who are uneducated could be inspired to get an education. He could also tolerate discrimination between the filthy and the clean, as the filthy could be inspired to be clean; but discrimination between people, solely based on skin colour had n remedy, said Buthelezi.
He rounded up his lecture on ZK Matthews by posing the question to the chairperson of the ruling party, Gwede Mantashe, who was seated at the front row seat, “What would ZK Matthews say about the current state of corruption, drought, and the state of our economy?”
Blade Nzimande, Minister of Education said: “If ZK Matthews was to be woken up today, “Shenge”, he would have been proud I am sure. Last year R1000 000 extra money was given to NSFAS. This year, 10 billion Rands has been given to NSFAS. There are, today, no fees schools, feeding schemes at schools, the majority of the people in our institutions are women. I believe ZK Matthews would be proud.” Education, he added, was and remains a terrain of struggle. It is also a means of shaping our country.
There are 13 thousand students today, enrolled at the University of Fort Hare, said Misnister Nzimande. When it comes to research, he added, Fort Hare is rated seventh in the country. “There is no doubt that Fort Hare is punching above its weight.” The UFH, he said, is one of the eight institutions that last August, it was decided to will be given a five year grant. “The money is to be used as the varsity sees fit, in developing the institution to its best possible level. More leaders and intellectuals must be developed here, as the varsity grows from strength to strength.