President Mugabe is an alumnus of the university.
Making the announcement on the state of readiness for the mega celebration to be held at the university’s Alice campus in the Eastern Cape, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said government will leave nothing to chance to ensure the ceremony is a success.
He said that not even the current wave of protests by some of the university’s disaffected students would be allowed to threaten the success of the occasion. The students have been protesting since the beginning of this week, raising a list of issues not necessarily linked to the centenary itself but clearly taking advantage of the attention that is firmly focused on the university ahead of Friday’s event.
Minister Radebe, speaking to reporters, said talks are continuing between the university management and the Student Representative Council to iron out complaints that have been raised by students that include issues related to student funding, among others.
The Minister confirmed that President Zuma will deliver the keynote address at the formal event. The celebrations are being held under the theme ‘Celebrating 100 Years of Academic Excellence’.
“Other alumni, including African leaders, are expected to attend the event. This centenary event coincides with Africa Month, which commemorates the founding of the then Organisation of African Unity, now called the African Union (AU),” said Minister Radebe.
Year-long celebrations planned
Fort Hare opened its doors in 1916 and is holding a year-long programme of events to showcase its rich 100-year history. By virtue of its history, the university remains a leader in higher education among the former black institutions. It produced graduates who later challenged the unjust system of apartheid that was founded on the principles of discrimination and segregation.
It became the leader of its time in providing education to African students and it comes as no surprise that government is taking the centenary celebrations seriously.
Very few universities in the African continent can claim to have nurtured and produced five African presidents – Seretse Khama, Kenneth Kaunda, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere and Mugabe. All these great leaders are Fort Hare alumni, as are many great men and women such as African National Congress stalwarts Oliver Tambo and Govan Mbeki. These leaders, who were to shape the future of the continent, all went to the small town of Alice to be educated there.
Leading up to the celebrations, the Department of Science and Technology has commissioned three publications detailing the history of the Fort Hare, including a number of short but comprehensive biographies of selected luminaries. The books will be launched in November this year.
In addition, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is overseeing the repairs to the Theology Building, Fine Arts Building and Sports Complex, the installation of flagpoles and repairs to Livingstone Hall, Henderson Hall, Stewart Hall and the Staff Centre.
The DPW is also working with the Department of Public Enterprises and has commissioned Transnet to undertake the restoration of the ZK Matthews House.
President Zuma will unveil the artistic impression of the renovation on the morning of 20 May.
The Department of Communications has commissioned a documentary on the historic university to be shown on SABC, starting on 17 to 20 May 2016.
More than 3 000 people expected at celebrations
Minister Radebe said the main event on Friday will take place at the Sports Complex of the university’s Alice campus and will attract 2 500 attendees and an additional 1 000 members of the public hosted in the overflow marquee.
An off-site venue will be provided in East London for students from other campuses. Invitations have been issued and the Department of Arts and Culture is tracking confirmations.
“The celebration will acknowledge the role the university has played in the fight against colonialism and apartheid. The debates that took place at the university greatly contributed in generating ideas for a free country and a continent,” Minister Radebe said.
The celebration provides an opportunity to teach South Africa’s children the importance of ideas and how these ideas could contribute to changing the trajectory of the country’s society.
Fort Hare had demonstrated too that universities that were designed to perpetuate inequality actually played an important role to challenge the dominant discourse, added Radebe.
The university’s Vice Chancellor, Dr Mvuyo Tom, said there was a time South Africa battled so many challenges in the higher education sector, the centenary provides the country with an opportunity to learn from what Fort Hare had achieved in the past 100 years.
He said he would continue to talk to the student community to resolve whatever challenges they were facing as the student body.
Eastern Cape to ensure success of event
The Premier of the Eastern Cape, Phumulo Masualle, said the provincial government would also put measures in place to ensure Friday’s celebrations are a success.
“We hope that engaging the students, we will all agree that an event of this magnitude ought to be given the status it deserves,” Masualle said.
Meanwhile, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who is part of the ministerial committee that has been tasked to manage the centenary, said government began to invest heavily on historically disadvantaged universities since 2007.
Resources were provided to improve Health Sciences in the University of Western Cape, Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda and Fort Hare.
“However, more needs to be done. We continue to have quite a robust infrastructure investment and have increased research funding to these institutions in order to improve their profile of research, especially at post-graduate level,” said Minister Pandor.