“Can you separate the history of South Africa from what
took place around Fort Hare?” Govan Mbeki asked his interviewer, Danny
Massey UFH historian. From its beginnings in 1916 Fort Hare was a cradle of
black leadership and resistance. The leaders later formed the movements for
a just, non-racial democratic society in South Africa. Fort Hare was known and
accepted as an institution in the forefront of resistance to the oppressive
government of the Afrikaner Nationalist Party.
In 1990 when the liberation organisations of South Africa were
unbanned it was not surprising that the leaders of all the resistance movements
in South Africa decided that the University of Fort Hare should be earmarked
as the repository of the “struggle history” of South Africa.
As a result in 1992 the University of Fort Hare was declared
custodian to an immensely valuable collection of records and artifacts relating
the to the fight against apartheid. The signatories to this agreement were the
African National Congress (ANC), Pan African Congress (PAC), Azanian Peoples’
Organisation (AZAPO), Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA) and the
New Unity Movement (NUM). .
Most of the organisations had established offices in Africa
and other parts of the world. However, the African National Congress was the
largest of these and had set up 33 missions across the world. Once it was clear
that the first democratic elections were to be held, the ANC instructed the
Chief Representatives to close the missions. Each mission held a mass of records
that told, inter alia how the organisation had operated in exile; how Oliver
Tambo had worked to make the ANC visible and how the “Free Nelson Mandela”
campaign had gained momentum in so many countries.
By 1992 most of the ANC mission records had been packed up and
returned home to South Africa where they were first lodged at Lutuli House in
Similar action was being undertaken by the PAC and the other
liberation groups to close their offices and bring their records back.
The liberation movements wanted the public to have access to
the history of the struggle against apartheid. They were aware of the need to
make the records available to the public for research, scholarship and general