Fort Hare University

in or near Fort Beaufort, Amatola in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsFort Hare University

Fort Hare, as its name suggest, began as a British fort built during the 19th century in the wars between British settlers and the Xhosa. Parts of the fort still remain as do the graves of those British soldiers who died during the battles.

Originally known as the South African Native College, and established in 1916, Fort Hare had at its core an ethos of 'plain living and high thinking'.

Its pivotal role was the part it played in higher education for black Africans between 1916 and 1959, when it offered a Euro-centric academic education; its graduates forming a black African elite.

As such, it was recognised as one of the most reputable universities on the African continent.

Its alumni include: Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Desmond Tutu, Chris Hani, Govan Mbeki, Robert Sobukwe, John Hlophe, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Ernest Mancoba and Dennis Brutus.

During the years before apartheid, the university was racially tolerant, with black, coloured and Indian students studying together, whilst its mainly white staff included black academics.

This endeavour was brought to an abrupt halt as soon as the National Party took over the university in 1959, when it became nothing more than an ethnic college for Xhosa speakers. A new academic staff, loyal to government, was installed, and the campus lost its independence and self-governance.

The university went from being one of the greatest centres of black higher education to what some have described as a 'bush college', similar to those created in the homelands by the National Party.

The university speaks of how progressive academics and the tradition of excellence managed to survive so that post-apartheid many former supporters of the university returned. The university plays heavily on its historical reputation to redefine itself.

Fort Hare became the custodian of the Liberation Movements archival material in the early 1990s as a way to memorialise the liberation struggle. The material is an important resource for documenting the untold history of South Africa. The archives include material from the ANC, PAC, AZAPO, BCM and the New Unity Movement.

All of the leaders of the respective movements chose Fort Hare as the rightful home for the archives.

Photo credit: Fort Hare's famous Theology building in Alice, South Africa. Photograph by and copyright Valerie Hinojosa via

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