A cen­tury of ex­cel­lence at Fort Hare

CityPress - - Voices - ZIN­TLE FIL­TANE voices@city­press.co.za

South Africa’s education sys­tem is firmly back in the spot­light, stim­u­lat­ing con­ster­na­tion and de­bate about the sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges that re­main in pro­vid­ing ac­cess to qual­ity ba­sic education for the coun­try’s young peo­ple.

While the lat­est group of Grade 12 stu­dents bat­tle to se­cure con­tested univer­sity places, even greater em­pha­sis falls on how univer­si­ties will nur­ture a new gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness and political lead­ers who can make a dif­fer­ence to the coun­try’s so­cioe­co­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The Univer­sity of Fort Hare in Alice, East­ern Cape, is one such univer­sity. As Fe­bru­ary 8 marks its of­fi­cial cen­te­nary, it re­tains its vi­sion to be a vi­brant, eq­ui­table and sus­tain­able African univer­sity, com­mit­ted to teach­ing and re­search ex­cel­lence at the ser­vice of its stu­dents, schol­ars and the wider com­mu­nity.

The cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions pro­vide an un­prece­dented op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on the in­sti­tu­tion’s his­tory and the many forces and events that have con­trib­uted to shap­ing Fort Hare into what it is to­day. For cur­rent stu­dents, it is im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge, record and ques­tion its his­tory, and ex­tract the most lib­er­at­ing and valu­able el­e­ments as the build­ing blocks for a rad­i­cally mod­ernised in­sti­tu­tion.

In the process, it is build­ing on the foun­da­tional strengths of its his­tor­i­cal in­her­i­tance, ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, stake­holder con­stituen­cies and com­mit­ted work­force to cre­ate a rel­e­vant and dy­namic new in­sti­tu­tion ready to meet the chal­lenges of to­day’s world.

The es­tab­lish­ment of the univer­sity came at a time of con­flict and dras­tic change, as the process of Afrikaner and Bri­tish coloni­sa­tion and ex­pro­pri­a­tion took hold, ac­com­pa­nied by the spread of Chris­tian­ity.

The SA Na­tive Col­lege, later to be­come the Univer­sity of Fort Hare, was founded in 1916 on the site of an ear­lier Bri­tish mil­i­tary strong­hold.

Al­though Fort Hare op­er­ated in an en­vi­ron­ment of racial seg­re­ga­tion even be­fore apartheid, the col­lege con­tained the seeds of a more tol­er­ant South Africa. It was as racially in­clu­sive as it could be at the time, with black, coloured and In­dian youth study­ing as one.

The takeover of the col­lege in 1959/60 by the Na­tional Party govern­ment put an end to th­ese achieve­ments and Fort Hare was trans­formed into an eth­nic col­lege for isiXhosa speak­ers.

De­spite the im­mense dam­age in­flicted on it by the apartheid regime, the inherent tra­di­tion of ex­cel­lence sur­vived among the stu­dents and a small but grow­ing num­ber of pro­gres­sive academics.

Many re­jected the at­tempt to turn Fort Hare into an eth­nic in­sti­tu­tion and in­stead, kept alive a spirit of op­po­si­tion, be­com­ing a strong­hold of the black con­scious­ness-ori­ented SA Stu­dents’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The tra­di­tion of ex­cel­lence sur­vived through the af­fec­tion and loy­alty of peo­ple to­wards the univer­sity. And when the op­por­tu­nity arose af­ter 1990 – the year that her­alded the fi­nal days of apartheid-era ad­min­is­tra­tion – many opted to work there. It sur­vived as a re­sult of a new spirit of PanAfrican­ism and in­ter­na­tion­al­ism, with stu­dents from Zim­babwe to Eritrea and staff from all over Africa and the world flock­ing to its doors.

Many came be­cause they knew of Fort Hare’s his­tor­i­cal rep­u­ta­tion and wanted to con­trib­ute to its new-found op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­nais­sance. They ac­knowl­edged the im­por­tance of its re­mark­able archival records, which con­tained the pa­pers of all lib­er­a­tion move­ments. Th­ese ar­chives doc­u­ment an ex­tra­or­di­nary and sus­tained ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment, form­ing a cor­po­rate mem­ory now made ac­ces­si­ble to schol­ars the world over.

To­day, the univer­sity is re­defin­ing its role as the pro­ducer and dis­sem­i­na­tor of new knowl­edge – fo­cus­ing in par­tic­u­lar on its cen­tral place in re­shap­ing post-apartheid South Africa, and repo­si­tion­ing it­self as an em­pow­er­ment agent in the political, eco­nomic, cul­tural and so­cial rev­o­lu­tion that is un­fold­ing.

The in­sti­tu­tion re­mains more de­ter­mined than ever to build on its dis­tinc­tive and il­lus­tri­ous past, main­tain­ing its com­mit­ment to up­hold the val­ues that have served it so well over the years: in­tegrity, ex­cel­lence, in­no­va­tion and ethics. Fil­tane is di­rec­tor of in­sti­tu­tional ad­vance­ment at the Univer­sity of

Fort Hare

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