Fort Hare has been part of their lives and has changed the town’s outlook for the better, say locals who spoke to SANews on Thursday. Hundreds of guests, including presidents and diplomats will descend on the town on Friday to witness the centenary celebrations, an event government has described as a milestone in South Africa’s history.
An inter-ministerial committee that was put together to organise the centenary, on Wednesday, announced that it was all systems go for the ceremony.
Community members, who say they have been part of the Fort Hare story for decades, say they will do all they can to support the event.
Shop owner Aarush Naidoo, who has been a resident of Alice for more than 25 years, said he had watched the university grow from strength to strength.
“I have been part of this community for many years and Fort Hare has been pretty much part of our heritage here. We have witness the number of visitors to our town and our business grows and its thanks largely to the institution called Fort Hare,” Naidoo said.
He said as a result of the growing number of visitors and students at Fort Hare, he had ventured into the property business, which he says has been successful for many years.
“So when we see this university turning 100 years, it brings a sense of pride in all of us and we want to say congratulations Fort Hare, may you have many more fruitful years,” he said.
Taxi owner Sabelo Sigeje said for him, the University of Fort Hare was more than an institution of higher learning.
“It’s sort of a heritage for our town, it’s our pride. When you tell people you are from Alice, the first thing they ask you is how’s Fort Hare. It is a great feeling to see the university turning 100 years, it’s something that all of us should be proud of,” said Sigeje.
He said the ugly scenes that result from student protests sometimes pained him. On Wednesday, a group of protestors broke windows and burned tyres at the entrance of the university's Alice campus, prompting police to use stun grenades. Several of the protestors were arrested. Government has condemned the destruction of property, calling on students to continue talks with the management.
Nomakhosi Mfiliba, who works as a teacher at a local school, says both her children study at Fort Hare and she was proud that they are now part of the generation that took Fort Hare to its 100 years of existence.
“Like any parent, I am proud. But more over I am proud of the town of Alice, the Eastern Cape and South Africa for having such a formidable university that has produced so many great leaders,” she said.
The main event
Government confirmed this week that President Zuma will deliver the keynote address at the formal event on Friday, while Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is expected to speak as an alumnus of the university. Other alumni, which include African leaders, are expected to attend the event.
The main event will take place at the Sports Complex of the UFH’s Alice Campus, with 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 UFH campuses. Invitations have been issued and the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) is tracking confirmations.
The cultural programme will feature popular South African musicians, including Nathi, Ringo Madlingozi and Mahotella Queens.
The centenary event coincides with Africa Month, which commemorates the founding of the then Organisation of African Unity, now called the African Union (AU).
The AU aims to promote greater unity and solidarity between African countries. It seeks to accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of Africa.