How the inspirational alumni of the University of Fort Hare continue to inspire today’s young leaders of tomorrow

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Research any notable university around the world and one of the most important aspects of that research will focus on the institution’s alumni, that celebration of past students’ achievements that inspire aspirant students wishing to follow in their illustrious footsteps. The alumni provide a powerful snapshot of an institution - its values, its impact on society, and its ability to create a challenging learning environment that creates and nutures leaders of tomorrow. Scrolling through the illustrious alumni of the globally renowned University of Fort Hare, located in Alice in the Eastern Cape, stimulates many emotions, including an immense sense of pride.


Throughout its history, the institution has launched thousands of graduates into the world who subsequently went on to become important, trailblazing figures in politics, business, law, education, medicine, science, and the humanities. Some have made technological breakthroughs, developed innovative products, or discovered lifesaving treatments, while others have led nations and revolutions, created timeless artwork, or written words that changed the course of history. The institution’s alumni is also an acknowledgement of the hugely significant impact that these leaders subsequently had on the world, and a feeling that their like will not be seen again. Many of their legacies are instrinsically intertwined with the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa and on the African continent in general, and live on today in the hearts and minds of citizens in each country, long after their passing.


Looking back at the University of Fort Hare’s alumni through history is remarkable given its challenging and turbulent history and the profoundly damaging impact of the apartheid regime in South Africa. How many other such institutions in the region can proudly count seven African presidents amongst its alumni, all emerging from the institution equipped to take on the mantles of political leadership in their own countries. These included South Africa’s inspirational Nelson Mandela; Botswana’s First President Seretse Khama; Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere;  Zambia’s First President Kenneth Kaunda; Interim President of Uganda Yusuf Lule; President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe; and Kaizer Matanzima President of Bantustan Transkei.


President Mandela who studied Latin and physics there for almost two years in the 1940s, left the institution as a result of a conflict with a college leader, but its impact was significant during his time there and beyond. He later wrote in his autobiography that “For young black South Africans like myself, it was Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, all rolled into one.” Today, his legacy at the University lives on through The Nelson R Mandela School of Law.


It is fully committed to fulfilling the University of Fort Hare strategic mission which enjoins the School to provide world class legal education offerings and research outputs of high quality and excellence. Consistent with the values that Nelson Mandela represents, the Law School envisions itself as an institution in which the values of humanism, societal leadership, equality and excellence are enthusiastically embraced and celebrated by staff and students alike.



The University of Fort Hare has long been a fertile breeding ground for new young leaders of the future to shape their destinies and that of their countries over the years to come. Throughout its history, several other leading South African opponents of the apartheid regime attended Fort Hare, among them Oliver Tambo of the African National Congress; Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party; Robert Sobukwe of the Pan Africanist Congress; Desmond Tutu now Archbishop Emeritus; Chris Hani leader of the South African Communist Party and Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress; and activist and politician Govan Mbeki, father of former President Thabo Mbeki. They remain powerful and inspirational role models today for the thousands of young students who follow in their footsteps.


The university also boasts a number of the current generation leadership found in politics, government and corporate including Sizwe Nxasana, Lazarus Zim, Kunene Brothers, Khaya Ngqula, Bulelani Ngcuka, Wendy Luhabe, Irvin Khoza, Tim Modise, Don Ncube, Former Premier of the Eastern Cape Rev Makhenkesi Stofile, Former KZN Premier Dr Frank Mdlalose, Current Free State Premier Ace Magashule, the list goes on.


The University of Fort Hare has long held a reputation for the nurturing of inspirational leaders in Africa, and has leadership running through its veins. It is thus inspiring to learn of the institution’s Center for Leadership Ethics in Africa (CLEA) that is building on the achievements of the past and preparing itself to create a new generation of leaders capable of addressing the many new challenges facing the African continent today. The world is looking to this new generation of leaders to convert Africa’s significant natural, cultural and human resources into stability, development and sustainability. Good leadership is the single most critical factor in harnessing potential into activity that will guarantee survival on the planet, a reversal of inequality and a rebuilding of social cohesion.


The Centre for Leadership Ethics in Africa (CLEA) at Fort Hare is a cross-disciplinary initiative that conducts research, develops postgraduate curricula and shapes debates about leadership ethics in post-apartheid South Africa and its wider theoretical and global significance. CLEA sees itself contributing to the crafting of a new generation of enlightened leaders within a space of lively and imaginative intellectual engagement.


The University of Fort Hare’s centenary celebrations in 2016 provide the perfect opportunity for reflecting on the institution’s past and the achievements and track records of those successful students who have added to its reputation and history. The institution’s alumni acts as a powerful magnet for present and past pupils to merge, to share experiences and insights, and to contribute to solving the many challenges that exist in today’s turbulent world. Alumni associations by their very nature allow students not only to look back and reflect on the past, but also to look forward to becoming a part of the association itself. They instill a deep sense of history and pride within the student body and  staff, and help to develop a culture where students see the possibilities for themselves.


As the University of Fort Hare celebrates its 100 years of existence, and takes the time to reflect on the significant impact it has had on the socio economic and political landscape of South Africa and the African continent as a whole during that time, it can reflect on the importance of a strong alumni. These men and women are the flag bearers of change, the role models for others to follow, and the innovators who see challenge as opportunity. Today’s students should take the time to remember that those very same alumni members whose names today conjure up images of strong and inspirational leadership in the darkest of days, sat at those same desks that they themselves occupy today. It’s a powerful motivator. Their experiences and their example can teach these new generations of students that if they wish to achieve success, they have to earn it. They have to continually push the boundaries of knowledge, strive for excellence, work hard and leave similarly inspirational footsteps for others to follow.


Luthando Bara, is a former student of Fort Hare who rejoined the institution as Director of Communications. He is currently a businessman