Preserving the Legacy and Building the Future - University of Fort Hare declares 2024 the Year of ZK Matthews

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Today, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare (UFH), Prof Sakhela Buhlungu officially opened the University for the 2024 Academic Year, a day after the institution celebrated its 108th year in existence (1916-2024).

Prof Buhlungu declared 2024 as the Year of Zachariah Keodirelang “ZK” Matthews to mark the centenary graduation of Prof ZK who became the University’s first graduate in 1924.

“If there is one person who should be celebrated for championing academic freedom and university autonomy, it is Prof ZK Matthews.”

He urged the University community to organize a series of academic and intellectual events such as lectures and symposiums, publish academic papers, and an exhibition on ZK Matthews and his legacy at UFH.

In his address that he titled, “Preserving the Legacy and Building the Future” the VC reflected on the year that was (2023) and gave a hopeful glimpse of what is to come in 2024.

Preserving the Legacy

“The 2023 academic year represented an extremely important moment in the history of the University. Through numerous activities and programmes, we managed to consolidate our efforts across the spectrum of our work towards the realization of the revitalisation programme that we refer as “A Decade of Renewal.”

“By the end of the year our University emerged energized and assertive and earned the respect in higher education and other circles in South Africa and beyond.”

Among the activities and achievements, the VC highlighted the strong financial performance that the University’s Finance Department, which is headed by four Chartered Accountants, continues to exhibit. “Sound cash flow management enabled investment activities which yielded significant investment income for the year.”

He also highlighted some of the huge strides made in Teaching and Learning in 2023. These include the approval of three innovative and unique programmes by Senate that have been submitted to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and will be submitted to the Council of Higher Education this year for accreditation. “The programmes are the Bachelor of Entrepreneurship, the Bachelor of Science in Dairy Science and Food Technology, and the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Liberation Studies.”

In the area of Research, the VC reflected on the launch of the five new Research Niche Areas, which are Renewable Energy; Sustainable Agriculture, Water Usage and Impact of Climate Change; Infectious Diseases and Medicinal Plants; Research in Inclusion and Township Economies; and African Liberation Heritage in Citizenship and Society.

He also drew attention to the solid and impactful partnerships that were forged in the year 2023, such as the formalization of the research collaboration, through the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the University and the Universidade Rainha Njinga Mbande in Malanje, Angola. The partnership funded by the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) three years ago also led to a training of academic staff from Angola. “The training has already commenced with one PhD student already admitted and more being considered,” he said.

The VC also detailed the strides made in Institutional Support through the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee that resulted in the unblocking of infrastructure delivery and ultimately improved the governance in the unit.

As much as he celebrated the milestones, the VC also remembered some of the “dark days” such as the brutal assassination of his driver and bodyguard Mboneli Vesele outside the VC’s house. The incident followed the assassination of the Fleet Manager, Mr Petrus Roets on 19 May 2022. To honour their memory, the VC invited their family to the ceremony, where he once again assured them that the University community would not rest until justice was served.

Building a Better Future

“Our achievements and success in 2023 provided a solid foundation which ensured that the year 2024 is a success.”

Guided by the Strategic Plan, this year the University continues its upward trajectory of achieving excellence in all the functions of the University.

On the cards, is the completion of key infrastructure projects such as the pioneering Early Childhood Development Centre in East London and the two DHET-funded water and wastewater treatment projects in Alice that will bring much-needed relief to the University and its surrounding communities.

This year we will also see the roll-out of smart classrooms, the automation of teaching and learning administration processes, security technology installations, and a new network connection via Makhanda that will spell the end of network connection challenges on the Alice campus.

In the area of Research, Partnership and Innovation, the VC announced the finalization of an agreement with a major funder for the Endowed Chair in Dairy Science & Technology – an announcement met by a resounding round of applause from the guests. 

Met with much glee from the academic staff that were in attendance was the recruitment drive to fill 30 academic posts.

Also welcoming was the establishment of a Retail Operations Committee (ROC) to spearhead the rental of vacant facilities across the University’s three campuses. “The ROC has identified vacant properties and developed a draft rental register. The rental of retail spaces on campuses will commence in the first semester of this year. One of these will be a restaurant at the staff centre in Alice.”

The start of work on the much-anticipated East London Student Centre and the expansion of the Alice Library have also been put on the cards for this year.

The VC reminded the university community of their obligation to uphold the University's Legacy. "Each generation of students, staff, and administrators have an obligation to preserve this University and its legacy so that generations to come can benefit from it. Our 'Decade of Renewal' is our contribution towards the preservation of UFH and everything it represents and stands for."

We look forward to the year 2024, the Year of ZK Matthews.