The history of the University of Fort Hare is a saga of achievement amidst adversity. The early missionaries in the Eastern Cape saw their need for the development of a group of black intellectuals. They nurtured intellectual giants like D.D.T.Jabavu, Walter Rubusana, J.L. Dube, and others who agreed that there should be an institution of higher learning in the colony.
A foundation for excellence was established in the early years, spanning nearly two decades. By the end of World War II Fort Hare had achieved distinction as an academic institution. In the Christian Union Hall vigorous political debate became the benchmark of the extra-mural education of Fort Harians and created highly politicised alumni.
Leadership of every persuasion had their views developed during those famous debates “It is thus not surprising that with its venerable history of resistance and struggle, the UFH was chosen to be the repository of most of the archives of the Liberation Front” (Sean Morrow).
The University was recognized as one of the most prestigious on the continent with its reputation for excellence and produced equally well-known alumni. The Hall of Fame includes Nelson Mandela, the late Presidents Seretse Khama of Botswana, Yusuf Lule of Uganda and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle of Lesotho and Prime Ministers Fwanyanga Mulikita and Elijah Mudenda of Zambia. ANC alumni include Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Chris Hani and many others. PAC founder Robert Sobukwe and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi graduated in the 1950s.
Over the decades after 1948, Fort Hare students demonstrated consistently against the volley of repressive legislation despite their expulsions, imprisonment and shootings. As the only university for black students in Southern Africa, they were targeted by the police and authorities, often making student life at Fort Hare a hazardous experience.
The Howard Pim Library
The oldest collection of books at Fort Hare is that of Howard Pim, and constitutes the Africana section. Howard Pim, a Quaker, came to South Africa in 1890. A highly qualified accountant he worked for the Chartered Company and later for Cecil Rhodes. His strong unequivocal stand against inequality and for justice meant that his job with Rhodes did not last. An erudite man he collected a large and diverse library as well as an abundant art collection. He bequeathed his Library to the College that became the University of Fort Hare, Howard Pim Library and his art collection he left to the University of the Witwatersrand. His Library at Fort Hare contains some very rare books on the history of South Africa as well as beautiful natural history and flora volumes.