Zuma praises Mugabe, trashes legacy of (white) Fort Hare University founder

Ancestry is important in African culture. Look after the antecedents and they will support your future. So trashing the legacy of those who have departed is a very serious matter. One which needs to be carefully considered – even by Presidents. One must presume Jacob Zuma thought through yesterday’s important speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fort Hare University. But his conclusions plumbed new depths even for the man who believes all other continents would fit into Africa, and biblical Paul of Tarsus actually hailed from the Sudan. In Zuma’s mind, the university’s founder Scottish missionary Dr James Stewart, created the institution with a nefarious agenda – a dastardly colonial plot which was only overcome by the brilliance of indigenous minds. It’s a reflection of Zuma’s anti-West paranoia that he can publicly trash the life’s work of a missionary who contributed so much, and in the next breath praise Zimbabwe’s destructive President-for-Life Robert Mugabe. In his few idle moments, Stewart must have hoped future South Africa would remember him with affection, perhaps even as Malawians revere his contemporary David Livingstone. Many do. And perhaps even more so once they test this ridiculous attempt by the Gupta family’s business partner to spin an alternative reality of a proud institution. Thank goodness for Google. – Alec Hogg

The old building at the Fort Hare University where both President's Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe attended the centenary celebrations.
The old building at the Fort Hare University where President Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe attended the centenary celebrations.

Speech by South African President Jacob Zuma at the University of Fort Hare centenary celebrations – 20 May 2016

His Excellency President Robert Mugabe,

Her Excellency Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, AU Commission Chairperson,

Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, Ms Baleka Mbethe


Eastern Cape Premier, Mr Phumulo Masualle

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

The Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor and all members of the family of Prof ZK Matthews,

Members of the Sobukwe, Biko and Tyali families

Speaker of the Eastern Cape Legislature

The Chancellor of Fort Hare University, Ambassador Makhenkesi Stofile,

The Chairperson of the University Council, Ms Thandi Orleyn,

Vice Chancellor of Fort Hare University, Dr Mvuyo Tom,

Deputy Vice-Chancellors

Members of the University Council

Esteemed Members of Academia

Esteemed traditional leaders and religious leaders,

The President of the SRC and leaders of student formations

Members of the Community


Fellow Africans and friends,

South African President Jacob Zuma. File photo. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
South African President Jacob Zuma. File photo. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

I feel deeply honoured to celebrate this historic milestone of the centenary of the University of Fort Hare with you.

This University is one of the most important heritage institutions in South Africa and the African continent. This occasion is thus important not only for our country, but for our continent as a whole.

It was clear from the beginning that Fort Hare was going to be an extraordinary site of struggle, both for the education and liberation of the African.

The very name of the institution reminds us of the history of our country. The initial grounds of this institution was a military base, a fort used by the British in their wars of conquest of the indigenous people whose lands they progressively seized for themselves.

As we are aware, the university was established under the direction of James Stewart who felt a need for a university to cater for African students who could not be accommodated in white institutions, coming from feeder schools such as Healdtown, Adams College and St Peters.

Dr Stewart had founded a hospital in Lovedale, started the medical school, and developed the founding scheme of the South African Native College, that is today the University of Fort Hare.

Dr Stewart and his associates had other reasons for wanting to establish what became known as Fort Hare.

Black students who studied overseas returned to South Africa politically conscious, which led them to become active in calling for recognition of the rights of black people. In the Cape Province, for instance, leaders such as Tiyo Soga, John Knox Bokwe, DDT Jabavu and Mpilo Walter Rubusana played prominent roles in pressing for the political claims of black people in South Africa.

There was also Sefako Makgatho in the Transvaal and Charlotte Manyi Maxeke who returned from their studies overseas and played prominent roles. In Natal there was John Langalibalele Dube who came back from his studies overseas and took up various causes for black liberation.

Another prominent leader from Natal was Pixley ka Isaka Seme, who played a significant role in the formation of the African National Congress. While a student at Columbia University, Seme gave a seminal speech which shaped Pan Africanism across the world. The title of his speech was “The Regeneration of Africa”. That speech inspired a generation of black people across the world to look at themselves in a positive light and to be proud of their African heritage.

One of the prominent Pan Africanists to be inspired by Seme’s speech was Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the Republic of Ghana, who in December 1962 concluded his remarks to the first Africanist Conference by reading Seme’s 1906 speech in its totality to underline its importance in shaping his own thinking as well as the thinking of many black people around the world.

It was this political consciousness that overseas education instilled in black students that Dr Stewart and his associates sought to prevent by establishing Fort Hare. They thought that if a black college were to be established to train black students here at home they could prevent their politicisation. But of course they were mistaken.

We wish to acknowledge today, Inkosi of this area at the time, Chief Tyali, who donated this land for the university of Fort Hare to be built.

It may have been established as part of the colonisation project in 1916, but Fort Hare went on to  produce some of the greatest leaders in the country and well beyond its borders.

That is the success that we are celebrating today.

We agree with one of its famous alumni, President Nelson Mandela who said that Fort Hare was both the home and incubator of some of the greatest African scholars the continent has ever known.

Fort Hare defied the objectives of colonial masters, and became an instrument of liberation.

We are filled with pride when we mention the formidable intellectuals and leaders produced by this university – Professor ZK Matthews, Govan Mbeki, Phyllis Ntantala, Godfrey Pitje, ANC President Oliver Tambo, President Robert Mugabe, then ANC Youth League leader and later PAC President Robert Sobukwe, Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle, President Seretse Khama, President Nelson Mandela, TT Letlaka, as well as later generations such as Chris Hani, Dr Zola Skweyiya and many others.

In fact this institution produced five heads of state and government, a rare achievement in the history of humankind.

The long list of illustrious leaders that emerged from this University were not just Pan-African in outlook. They were also internationalists.

Even with the diverse ideological and political orientation among them, there was so much unity in terms of what they wanted to do. They had a common and formidable purpose, to free South Africa and liberate the continent.

The University of Fort Hare was therefore more than just a college or an education institution, it was a critical meeting point of great young minds who had the interests of our country and the continent at heart.

It became a hotbed of radical and transformative ideas of a revolution, in particular, a revolution to liberate not only South Africa but the rest of the African continent.

The African nationalism, the winds of change and the independence movements of the 1960s found fertile reception and resonance in the Southern African region due to the revolutionary teachings of Fort Hare University.

It became a university for Southern Africa and Africa, gave the sub-region a strong pan-Africanist impulse and solidarity, which came to the fore during South Africa’s freedom struggle.

This was most manifested in the support such countries as Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania to name a few, gave to our struggle for liberation and freedom.

In a real sense, this was in large measure the influence that Fort Hare made on the leaders of these sister countries and the nationalist movements.

To this extent, ladies and gentlemen, despite its imperfections or its challenges, the University of Fort Hare occupied a pre-eminent role in the educational landscape for black people in the first half of the 20th century.

And this university certainly had a great impact in the development of African nationalism in the continent.

Fort Hare produced leadership that embraced Africa as a home and the university became the doyen of Pan-Africanism.

Robert Sobukwe, still a member of the ANC Youth League and President of the SRC at Fort Hare in 1949 reflected this very well when he said:

“Our whole life in South Africa is politics? I am sure I am speaking for the whole of young Africa when I say that we are prepared to work with any man who is fighting for the liberation of Africa WITHIN OUR LIFE-TIME? We are pro-Africa. We breathe, we dream we live Africa?”

Fort Hare gave the future leaders tools to analyse society, to create meaning about life, and to imagine a liberated and normal society.

Oliver Tambo taught some of the students at St Peters, so they came to the University of Fort Hare being already conscious of the plight of the black people and Africans in particular.

Among the most famous leaders produced by this institution was Govan Mbeki whose dedication to the freedom of his people led him to contribute extensively to education.

He also wrote several works on the condition of life and struggles in the country.

Oom Gov continued this project even from the confines of Robben Island Prison, where he was incarcerated for the better part of his adult life alongside his comrades with whom he was convicted of high treason in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Excellencies and compatriots,

The history of Fort Hare would also be incomplete without emphasising the role played by Prof ZK Matthews, a remarkable intellectual, political activist and one of the prominent leaders of the ANC who strongly believed in education as an agent of change.

ZK Matthews modelled the all-roundedness and excellence that is still rare to find.


He believed that as university students and as graduates, Fort Hare students should interact with, do practical work in and influence society.

He believed that as Christians they must serve and radiate good values, and as academics they should fight for what is right in society.

He is also important because of his contribution to critical moments in our country’s history. Prof Matthews suggested the convening of the Congress of the People, which came to have an enduring impact in our political landscape even today.  The Congress of the People produced the Freedom Charter, which was also his idea.

It could therefore be argued that Fort Hare served as a catalyst in the conceptualisation of the Freedom Charter, which became a fundamental policy document in our country which has informed the Constitution of a democratic South Africa.

It should also be recalled that ZK Matthews contributed to the drafting of the visionary human rights document, the African Claims, which pre-dated the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, another great achievement for South Africa and Africa.

ZK Matthews used every moment and opportunity to craft the path that he thought would lead Africans to freedom. He truly was committed to Africa. Most importantly, he achieved greatness without aspiring for it.

We are happy that his family is here today, led by his grand-daughter, the Minister of Science and Technology Ms Naledi Pandor, who is following in his footsteps given her contribution to the country in various ways.

Excellencies, distinguished guests,

Let me reiterate that Fort Hare is a success story not only for South Africa but for the African continent as a whole. This university produced heads of state, cabinet ministers, natural and social scientists and leaders in various fields.

It is that success that we are reflecting on today.

What does it mean for us and for future generations?

Important themes arise in the story of Fort Hare.

First is the obvious importance of education in terms of the acquisition of knowledge in various areas of human endeavour. Education is the foundation of all societies and is a key determinant of the quality of life.

Simply put, without education we shall have no teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, geologists, engineers, physicists, mathematicians and specialists of other types that are critical for our whole existence.

It is thus impressive that Fort Hare continues to excel in some fields which makes the centenary theme, 100 years of academic excellence so befitting.

The university is renowned for having one of the best Agricultural Science schools in Africa. It will be important to use this advantage to train agricultural scientists from across the continent in order to deal with the challenges of food security in Africa.

Prof ZK Matthews and all lecturers of the heydays of Fort Hare would be thrilled to hear that this University’s accounting department has outperformed top-rated universities in the country by scoring the highest pass rate in the recent South African Institute of Chartered Accountants board exam.

The university is also living up to the Pan-African ideals of the founding fathers and mothers by continuing to open its doors to students from sister countries in the continent.

The new public service in South Sudan has been assisted by Fort Hare. The university is also providing training to public servants in countries as far as Somalia and other countries.

More partnerships with universities in the continent will assist to build and further develop the Pan-African historic character of this institution. This is important because Fort Hare is an African university. It is not just a South African university.

The University is also the home of the archives of the oldest liberation movement in the continent, the ANC.

This underscores the role of Fort Hare in the liberation struggle.

This also means that the curriculum of Fort Hare must also reflect this historical role. It must be a centre of excellence on the study of South Africa and Africa and shape the discourse about where the continent is going, as outlined in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which the AU Commission Chairperson is championing.

Fellow Africans and friends,

The sustainable development of our country, our continent and our world depends very much on how the current students of Fort Hare, and youth in general, take the challenge that history has placed before them.

Knowledge gained through education can be used for both good and bad deeds. It can be used to build or to destroy.

It can be used to liberate or to oppress. What it does, depends on the orientation of the one possessing and using the knowledge.

In our view, education should be used to build and transform society, especially in a country that has just emerged from institutionalised racial oppression like ours.

Key amongst the tasks of our young intellectuals is to use education to achieve the liberation of the mind of the African.

Liberated minds made it possible for many generations of graduates from this and other institutions of higher learning to fight and defeat colonialism and apartheid.

Liberated minds will make it possible to achieve genuine freedom faster – freedom from feelings of inferiority, from poverty and inequality.

Let us work earnestly towards the liberation of the mind of the African child and of the African in general so that we can entrench self-love and Afro-optimism.

Allow me at this point to refer to the destruction of public assets that accompany protests activities in our communities and also at this very university and others.

Students must reflect and think deeply about whose interests they are serving when they go all out to destroy their future and the future of their country.

Burning schools, libraries and university buildings means burning the future. History will judge those who burn university buildings and schools very harshly.

There are some who claim that people resort to violent protest because this is the language that government understands. Any analyst or leader who says that is completely mistaken and should reconsider this position.

Such a view does not take South Africa forward.

There can be no justification of violence and anarchy, especially in a country where people have freedom of speech and expression and where government has formal programmes of engaging the people.

We have a responsibility as leaders to ensure that our hard won freedom and democracy are defended and protected from those with sinister agendas, who wish to sow mayhem and undermine our hard-won freedom and democracy.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

Let me take this opportunity to thank His Excellency President Robert Mugabe for joining us on this historic occasion.

I also thank Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi who is also from that generation that made Fort Hare the celebrated institution that it is today.

We also thank Her Excellency Dlamini-Zuma for gracing this occasion, thus ensuring the representation of the AU at this African celebration.

We make a clarion call to the university community today, to continue to make Fort Hare a centre of academic excellence.

The university must continue to be a centre of leading political discourse and success in various fields, in the memory of its celebrated alumni.

We congratulate Fort Hare on this historic occasion and congratulate the whole of Africa as well.

May the memory of the great leaders who came out of this great institution guide us as we consolidate our freedom and democracy and as we continue to build our new rainbow nation, a home of all South Africans. Let us remember the words of Pixley ka Isaka Seme when he said:

“I am African?the brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved, her dessert planes red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities.

Her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce, her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business and all of her sons (and daughters) employed in advancing the victories of peace, greater and more abiding than the spoils of war”.

May this visionary clarion call continue to ignite the fire of Pan Africanism as the guiding principle in our work towards the attainment of the goals of the AU Agenda 2063.

I thank you.

(Visited 117 times, 1 visits today)