INSIGHT | "Now is the time to defend UFH from its detractors" - Prof Mzukisi Njotini
Writing on "The theoretical importance of love" in a paper published in 1959, William J Goode had the following to say: "Love is analysed as an element of social action and therefore of social structure ... Since love is potentially disruptive of lineages and class strata, it must be controlled."
This passage shows exactly what has befallen the great University of Fort Hare lately: Grappling with a love phenomenon while struggling to palliate its correlated harmful effects on the institution's sustainability.
Having opened its doors as the University College (Fort Hare University College) on February 8, 1916, the University of Fort Hare has had multiple trials and tribulations.
Indeed, the apartheid system with all its hideous laws takes ownership of several of these disruptions.
Both the 1951 (Fort Hare being linked to Rhodes University) and 1960 (the university being part of the apartheid government's project to exploit Africans through 'Bantu' education) events, among others, are illustrative of this.
These occurrences saw Fort Hare being divided along ethnic lines, a phenomenon that was solidified through the emergence of the Ciskei homeland regime in the 1970s. They dented the love and devotion Dr James Steward of Lovedale had for education, culminating in his vision in 1878 of establishing an institution of education of university standing.
Nonetheless, Steward's affection for education bore fruits when the first students, Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews (formerly known as ZK Matthews) and Edwin Ncwana, obtained their bachelor of arts degree in 1924.
In years to follow, Fort Hare became a dominant force in developing the intellectual rigour of some of the leaders in SA and the African continent. It is these successes that propelled some onlookers to tenderly refer to the institution as "kwaNocollege".
A realistic invocation of kwaNocollege, as a concept, is pivotal to a fitting comprehension and analysis of Fort Hare's causticness of affection. It is not clear when (or by whom) the notion was coined.
However, the concept appears to be ascribed to the events of February 8 1916, namely, the inception of Fort Hare University College.
KwaNocollege, within the context of Fort Hare, debatably, is understood to imply the "place where (African) leaders are made".
Recently, the KwaNocollege phenomenon has been used as a gambit to loot Fort Hare of its funds or target its academic leaders. The ostensible love for the institution has somewhat become a ploy to disrupt or vanquish the academic echelons (strata) and excellence Fort Hare stands or is known for.
Lest one be accused of being sloppy, let's reflect on some of the reported incidents.
Independent Online ran a headline: "Fort Hare University employees in court for murder, attempted murder of VC and bodyguard". TimesLive reported: "Fort Hare employees arrested for colleagues' murders".
These publications concurred that these killings were masterminded by current and former employees of the institution. This view emanated from reports that the five suspects (one a police officer) accused of killing two Fort Hare employees, are either employed or have left the employ of the institution.
But is this the tip of the iceberg? The answer is an emphatic no!
In December 2019, City Press ran a story with the headline "The fall of the university: How Fort Hare collapsed into dysfunction".
City Press detailed how corruption and maladministration, sometimes at council level, has crippled the institution.
In a corruption case involving a cleaning company contracted to Fort Hare, the Eastern Cape division of the high court granted a R14.3m restraint order against the assets and properties of the company's directors.
This comes after a former employee of Fort Hare illicitly used her position as manager to keep the contract alive (incessant renewal).
Rumours are that a group calling itself the 'True Forterians' or'Abantwana Bongquba' uses social media to spread lies, fake news and hatred about the institution and managers. All this is done to destabilise the institution and weaken efforts to curb corruption, malfeasance, and incompetence.
These events or incidents point to one thing (and one thing only), that there is a collective that loves Fort Hare so much that they are willing to annihilate the institution.
In Goode's observations, this group's adoration of the institution has become significantly disparaging and harmful. The question then is how can this disruptive love be controlled?
Martin Niemoller (a prominent Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany) once enunciated the threat caused by people's silence during a period of disruption or destruction. He then coined the notion: 'First they came for .. .'
The latter concept is captured in the Methodist hymn book
Once to every man and Nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood
For the good or evil side
Then to side with truth is noble
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit
And 'tis prosperous to be just.
People generally have a choice, to speak or be silent.
Silence provides solitude for people to introspect and reflect. It is also the most needed place to hide for those who choose the path of neutrality and objectivity (being on the fence).
However, the challenges bedeviling Fort Hare won't be solved through silence. Silence in the midst of disruptions inhibits or constitutes a betrayal of the hopes and dreams of the past, present and future generation of learners at this institution.
How long should evil prevail or be allowed to fester, because good people are silent?
Simply, there comes a time when everyone must control the unobservable adoration that has become so disruptive that it runs Fort Hare or KwaNocollege to the ground. That time is the present!
Prof Mzuldsi Njotini is dean of the faculty of law at the University of Fort Hare. He writes in his personal capacity.
Published on 25 August 2023, Daily Dispatch.