History, politics and leadership

South Africa of the 20th century was a deeply tumultuous place. The University of Fort Hare weathered these tides of history, politics and prejudice – at times enacting the spirit of the day; at others, challenging, rallying against and rising above them to forge a new reality. This ebb and flow was profoundly determined by those at the helm of the institution, both the administrative leadership of the University and those student leaders who became the voices of generations of young minds at Fort Hare. Explore the dynamics of history, politics and leadership at Fort Hare in this introductory section.



Prof Luvuyo Wotshela
Director – National Heritage & Cultural Studies Centre

Challenging History

Despite the physical and spiritual vestiges of colonial conquest, the Tyume River valley is a historic symbol of regeneration for young Africans. As the region developed with the earlier Lovedale Mission institution and the Victoria Hospital, Fort Hare emerged as a birthplace of African leadership.

A broad history of the University of Fort Hare cannot be presented in a single narrative. It holds within it a complex web of themes. An inclusive account of education in southern Africa must draw connections with processes of African nationalism and intellectualism. These facets are pervasive in Fort Hare’s centennial record, and must come to the fore in a rendition of its history. But Fort Hare’s history also extends well beyond these concerns.

While the early geography of the campus is confined to Alice, this eminent knowledge production site is more than a mere garrison in the Eastern Cape. Its socio-political and intellectual reach has extended well beyond the precinct of Alice and the borders of South Africa. And although 1916 is inscribed as its foundation year, the seeds of Fort Hare were planted many years before then. Our documentation of this history in the Centenary Exhibition is part of an ongoing project to record and preserve the identity, history and legacy of Fort Hare. And so the life of Fort Hare will extend well into the future.

This is a complex, rich and dense history: there are challenges in depicting its ebbs and flows and the diverse experiences of the many individuals who have graced the corridors of this august institution. Although Fort Hare has in many ways been moulded by the country’s past, it has always fought to rise above the realities of the day, and has, in recent times, transcended that past as it continues to redefine, reshape and remake its identity.