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Historical Chronology

Key Milestones

These are some of the milestones of Fort Hare.

  • 1878Dr. 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.
  • In July 1904 the First General Missionary Conference in Africa was held at Johannesburg. All the Protestant missions were represented. Dr. Stewart was unanimously chosen President.
  • 1905On December 28, a week after the death of Dr. Stewart, a convention of 160 representatives 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. DDT 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 BA 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.
  • 1921Wesley House, the Methodist Hostel is built.
  • James Donaldson, then Lt Colonel James Donaldson DSO, and a self-made man returned to the mission where the university had been built. Inspired by the excellent standard of education, he ensured that the Donaldson Trust provided scholarships and donations for library equipment. He also provided funds to build the women`s hostel and the Donaldson Wing of the Stewart Hall, the foundation stone of which he laid on the 19th September 1946.
  • Iona, the Presbyterian hostel is built.
  • ZK Matthews receives the first degree awarded by the South African Native College.
  • Honeydale Farm (1250 acres) was purchased and a small dairy herd established.
  • 1928-2Gertrude Ntlabathi becomes first woman graduate at Fort Hare.
  • Howard Pim Africana Library.
  • fort hareThe Christian Union building is donated by the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) of North American and Canada.
  • 1935Govan Mbeki graduates with a Diploma in Education.
  • Patricia Jobodwana, becomes the youngest black woman to enroll at a university – at Fort Hare, aged 14, for a degree in Medicine.
  • 1937Livingston Hall is built. The Livingstone Hall was constructed in 1936 and commemorates the well-known missionary explorer Dr. David Livingstone.
  • David Livingstone (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a Scottish Congregationalist pioneer medical missionary with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa.
  • His meeting with HM Stanley on 10 November 1871 gave rise to the popular quotation “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
  • Perhaps one of the most popular national heroes of the late 19th century in Victorian Britain, Livingstone had a mythic status, which operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class “rags to riches” inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of commercial empire. Livingstone made geographical discoveries for European knowledge. He inspired abolitionists of the slave trade, explorers and missionaries. He opened up Central Africa to missionaries who initiated the education and health care for Africans, and trade by the African Lakes Company. He was held in some esteem by many African chiefs and local people and his name facilitated relations between them and the British.
  • 1939Nelson Mandela enrolled at the University College. It was here that he would meet his lifelong friend and colleague Oliver Tambo. Though they see little of each other because they live in different hostels, they travel together into the neighbouring communities to teach bible studies.
  • Mandela was elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC) at Fort Hare. After he became embroiled in general student dissatisfaction with boarding house food and a very low SRC poll, he followed his conscience and resigned. The head of the University gave him a choice: either he accepts the post or he leaves the university. He was given until the end of the university holidays to decide. When he returned home, the regent ordered him to return to university after the holidays and take up his seat on the SRC. However, Mandela felt that there was a principle at stake and refused to return under the conditions laid down by the rector. Like his late father, Mandela stood by his principles and refused to bend to authority. This is a strong and recurring trait of his personality. Mandela did not finish his degree as he was expelled in 1940 for his involvement in a student protest. He completed his degree at the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.
  • Elukhanyisweni, the women’s hostel is built.
  • Oliver Tambo graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree.
  • 1942Henderson Hall is built with funds from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It houses the FS 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.”
  • Mandela who completed his degree externally, is awarded a bachelor of Arts in Native Administration and Politics.
  • Robert Sobukwe registered for a BA majoring in English, Xhosa and Native Administration.
  • 1948Mangosuthu Buthelezi begins his studies at the institution and joins the ANC Youth League.
  • sobukweSobukwe was elected president of the Fort Hare Students’ Representative Council (SRC), where he proved himself to be an effective orator and his Pan Africanism speech.
  • Robert Mugabe is awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree.
  • Fort Hare becomes affiliated with Rhodes University. In terms of the Rhodes University Private Act, the University College of Fort Hare was affiliated to Rhodes University. This mutually beneficial arrangement continued until the apartheid government decided to disaffiliate Fort Hare from Rhodes.
  • Under the University Education Act, Fort Hare qualifies as a University institution.
  • In 1954-5 black teachers and students protested against Bantu Education. The African Education Movement was formed to provide alternative education. For a few years, cultural clubs operated as informal schools, but by 1960 they had closed down.
  • The Extension of University Education Act, Act 45 of 1959, put an end to black students attending white universities (mainly the universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand). Separating tertiary institutions according to race, this Act set up separate ‘tribal colleges’ for black university students. The so-called ‘bush’ universities such as Fort Hare, Vista, Venda, Western Cape were formed. Blacks could no longer freely attend white universities. Again, there were strong protests.
  • The university is closed for a month due the protests.
  • ZK Mathews is chosen as Acting Principal of Fort Hare.
  • 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 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.”*
  • A gallery of contemporary African art was added to FS Malan Museum.
  • The South African Student Organisation is formed by Bantu Steve Biko.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 19911992Oliver 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.
  • Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College Archival Collection (SOMAFCO).
  • First UFH Convocation is launched during the first homecoming event.
  • 1994Prof Mzamane is inaugurated as first black Vice-Chancellor of Fort Hare with Govan Mbeki as the Chancellor. Prof. Bengu takes up the post of Education minister.
  • 1996Fort Hare celebrates its 80th anniversary in style as President Mandela and Miriam Makeba arrive on campus.
  • Opening of the ANC Archives by Vice-president Thabo Mbeki on behalf of President Nelson Mandela.
  • liberation-archivesProf SME Bengu opens the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre which houses the Liberation Archives collections. The centre also houses a series of artefacts and artworks many of which have been declared national treasures.
  • National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre Building.
  • 1999After 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.
  • The university launches a strategic plan 2000 for the transformation and repositioning.
  • 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.
  • 2003The first Robert Sobukwe Memorial Lecture is held given by E’skia Mpahlele.
  • Under the restructuring of the Higher Education sector, Fort Hare incorporates Rhodes University’s East London campus which gave the University an urban and a coastal base for the first time.
  • The Nguni Project is launched.
  • 2005President 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.
  • Nomsa Mazwai is elected first ever female SRC president
  • In September the Miriam Makeba Center of Performing Arts is opened in East London.
  • 2007-12007-2The Fort Hare Dairy Trust Project starts.
  • dr-tom-300x150Dr Mvuyo Tom a former student takes over as Vice-chancellor. He lays out a five year strategic plan to improve curriculum, enhance research, boost student life and ensure financial stability.
  • Fort Hare celebrates its 95th jubilee.
  • The Piggery Project is started.
  • 20122012-2In June and as part of the ANC centenary celebrations, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma delivers a lecture at the University Sports Complex.
  • And in October former state president of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki delivers a moving speech at the Oliver Reginald Tambo Memorial Lecture.
  • Fort Hare hosts South African Traditional Music Association (SATMA) awards. Reverend Jessie Jackson is guest of honour and Fort’e Radio’s Melumzi Xhego receives the best cultural talk show award (community radio category).
  • A new degree in Human Settlement is launched within the context of centenary celebrations
  • A new residence is built with a capacity to accommodate 2 500 students.
  • DASO wins the SRC elections on the Alice main campus

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