National Heritage and Cultural Studies (NAHECS)

Where Liberation History, Heritage and Culture Meet Scholarship


The National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre (NAHECS) was first established in 1981 as the Centre for Xhosa Literature attached to the then Faculty of Arts. From that time, it accumulated, documented and preserved oral and written literary material pertinent to the isiXhosa Language with the purpose of making those sources available to researchers and members of the public. In 1991 it was renamed the Centre for Cultural Studies (CCS) as it added objectives to promote knowledge and understanding of human activities pertinent to heritage and culture in South Africa. Thereafter collection and preservation of appropriate material evidence, the study and exposition of the country’s heritage and culture became a necessity.


From 1998, the Council approved a second change of name to the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre (NAHECS). NAHECS thus became a broad-based institution that focuses on archival, museum, heritage and cultural studies unit, with measured research on transformation of these. In that same year its significant museum collections were unanimously declared ‘national cultural treasure’ by South African Parliament.




NAHECS is a bona fide archival, curatorship and academic unit of the university. It envisions itself a major conservation, academic and research institution in respect to heritage and cultural studies and liberation history in Africa, accessible to the scholarly community and the public, and as a centre of excellence engaging in national and international scholarly discourses, producing critical knowledge, and expanding the intellectual capacity of the South African nation.




NAHECS, working with academic units, interdisciplinary programmes and strategic partners pursues the mission of acquiring, conserving, processing, developing and managing liberation history and cultural archives, literature, works of art, artifacts and intangible heritage materials. The Centre enables students and array of scholars to explore and study empirical materials in order to produce knowledge in a manner that empower participants in its respective programmes. These are geared to contribute towards the process of defining or redefining social relations, issues of identity, heritage and cultural policy, and also for vivifying the historical role and the expansion of critical intellectual tradition of the University.




Estelle Hamilton-Welsh Collection


This collection donated to Fort Hare in 1963 by Estelle and Fred Welsh was gathered between the years 1880 and 1940 and consist indigenous African objects that reflect the heritage of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal. The collection consists of beadwork, clothing costumes, wooden artifacts, and those of medicines and weapons from various ethnic groups of Xhosa, Mfengu, Thembu, Mpondo, Zulu and Ndebele origins.


FS Malan Collection


This collection donated to Fort Hare during the mid-1930s by FS Malan, who was one of council members at the time, contains a wide range of Southern African ethnographic artefacts. It includes mainly beadwork, cloth, animal skin bags, traditional skirts dyed in red and yellow ochre for girls and women, agricultural implements, traditional hunting weapons, medicines, specimens of edible plants, indigenous divining bones and equipment, as well as carved wooden walking sticks. It reflects the diversity of culture of different ethnic groups such as those of the Xhosa, Mfengu, Mpondo, Zulu, Shangaan, Swazi, Venda, Pedi, Sotho, Tlokwa and Ndebele peoples of Southern Africa. The artifacts were collected from as far as the provinces of Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the North West and the Free State.


Contemporary South African Black Art and Artists


The University of Fort Hare and NAHECS in particular is renowned for its custodianship of contemporary South African Black Art Collection that covers a wide range of fine art disciplines. These encompass etchings, woodcuts, wood blocks, linocuts, serigraphs, drawings, paintings and sculpture that represent more than 150 artists. The majority include internationally recognised personages such as Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba, Sydney Khumalo, John Muafangejo, Lucas Sithole, Ephraim Ngatane, John Mohl, Cyprian Shilakoe, Ezrom Legae, Louis Maqhubela and Dumile Mhlaba Feni. The most important section of the collection dates from 1930 to 1950 among which Sekoto and Pemba pioneered township art. The paintings and prints produced between 1960 and 1970 are complex in content, and lay the foundation for the development of art in the following decades. The third period covered by representatives of this collection is between 1970 and 1990. It covers a wide range of subjects of historical importance.


Archives of the South African Liberation Movements


Importantly the University is the custodian of the archives of the Liberation Movements, most of which was donated by various black political parties after their unbanning after 1990. These include records of the African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the Azanian Peoples’ Organisation (AZAPO), the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the Unity Movement (UMSA), and the New Unity Movement (NUM) as well as the Sport and Liberation Materials Collection.


Personal papers of a number of activists and the records of the Federation of Seminaries (FEDSEM) are in the archives. The University Records also form a large collection. NAHECS is currently embarking on acquiring, processing and developing a Sports Liberation Materials Archive.






NAHECS staff service the research needs of scholars and students interested in South Africa’s liberation history, heritage and culture, and some participate as lecturers, supervisors and facilitators in appropriate academic disciplines at the University.


This Centre further initiates, promotes and facilitates research based on its archives, artefacts and art works. NAHECS encourages research on living heritage subjects, including Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Indigenous Music and Orality.


Appropriately qualified NAHECS staff members also teach undergraduate courses and modules and supervise students pursuing thesis-based MA and PhD degrees in various academic disciplines of the University.