Read an Excerpt
Turfloop: Conscious PariahHow the University of the North brought in the Age of Barack Obama beyond our Wildest Dreams
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Chris Kanyane
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Idea of a University for Africans
Higher education for Blacks in South Africa dates to 1916 with the establishment of the African Native College.
Until 1960, universities in South Africa fell into two categories: the English language universities of Cape Town, the Witwatersrand, Natal and Rhodes; and the Afrikaans language universities of Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Potchestroom, and the Free State. The University of South Africa was unique in that it was the only distance education university which offered instruction in both English and Afrikaans. Students of all races could register without violating the apartheid policy of strict racial segregation.
Apart from the medium of instruction, the universities were governed by two fundamentally different philosophies. The English language universities emphasized the supreme importance of academic freedom and academic autonomy. They maintained that the university should select its students on no grounds other than academic ones. They contended that the university should be free to administer its own courses, syllabi, curricula, and examinations without reference to external authority.
The Afrikaans language universities insisted that the university be compelled to conform to national policy and social order. The primary aim of the university, according to this philosophy, was to serve its community. This is enshrined in Article 14 of the Christian-National Education Manifesto of 1948 which said: with regard to the national principle, we believe that the coloured man can be made race conscious if the principle of apartheid is strictly applied in education ...,
The different in approach can be traced to the cultural backgrounds of the two language groups. Whilst the English language universities, true to their liberal tradition, opened their doors to non white students, the Afrikaans universities were closed to people of colour - apparently in defense of ethnic purity.
Of particular interest was that in that great debate on the nature of the university, the black perspective had no forum. Even in the liberal English universities where few non whites students were found they were psychological conguered and could do nothing to raise their concerns, theirs were to go to the lecture room sit down and take notes. Nelson Mandela recalled that even in the lecture rooms, white students would move if a black student sat near them. The environment in the English universities reminded all non whites that they were not part of the university community.
Towards the middle of the 1950s it was felt that the number of universities for Black students should be increased, so in 1959 the Parliament of the Union of South Africa passed the Extension of University Education Act. The Act established two additional university colleges for Blacks, one for coloureds and one for Indians.
The University College of the North was founded on 1 August, 1959, as a to serve the Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana and Venda ethnic communities. However, the University has on occasion accepted students from South West Africa (Namibia), Zimbabwe and Malawi.
The establishment of ethnic universities should be viewed against the apartheid policy of, "separate development," South Africa's white, coloured, Asian and the eight Bantu nations were called separate nations. Every aspect of life was dominated by the thought: to what group does that man belong? The universities that were created by the University Act of 1959 were meant to prepare their graduates for future participation in the development of their ethnic communities.
The first council of the University of the North was appointed on 14 August 1959 and its first advisory council on 1 January 1960. The first senate was constituted in September, 1960 and met for the first time on 13 October.
The members of the council of the University were whites, appointed by the Minister of Bantu Education. The advisory council was composed entirely of non whites but controlled by whites. According to official policy, this arrangement was for the good of the non white and there was a promise that the University would be handed over to the non whites as soon as they were ready, to manage the University.
Parliament stipulated at the inception of the University College of the North that the institution should fall under the academic trusteeship of the University of South Africa. This relationship functioned reasonably well, but gradually it became evident that the university college would be able to do justice to its own unique character and realize its ideals only if it could develop on its own. Thus in 1969, the Republic of South Africa Parliament made provision for the academic independence through the University of the North Act (Act No. 47 of 1969), and on 1 January, 1970, the decade-long relationship with the University of South Africa was dissolved, and the University of the North came into being.
The first Black rector and Principal (Professor WM Kgware) of any university in South Africa was appointed to the University of the North on 1 January 1977. Thus University of the North provided the ideological leadership for other Black universities in South Africa and in neighboring countries. The appointment of Kgware was spearheaded by what would later become known as the Turfloop testimony.
The Council of the University was reconstituted on 1 January, 1978. This was also a result of Turfloop testimony. The Turfloop Testimony ideals were soon to spread through townships and villages.
At the same time the University Council was reconstituted, the predominantly black Advisory Council was abolished - again in the spirit of the Turfloop Testimony. A vice rector was installed.
The first rector of the university was Prof E.F Potgieter, a white Afrikaner from Pretoria.
What follows is his account of the establishment of the university and of his ideals for the university as a founding Rector and principal.
A Few Memories of the First Rector of the University of the North
Never shall I forget the day I travelled with my family to the land of the Mamabolo where I had undertaken to begin another University in South Africa.
There was virtually nothing there, and some newspaper referred to this new university as a still-born baby. To this remark, I responded by admitting that the baby was still being born. This I said to such men as Kgware, Ntsanwisi, Lekhela, Van Dyk, Galloway and others. We were not many at that stage, but some of the first students are today prominent men.
Never shall I forget the day when I asked the White builder to hurry up and build the Chemistry laboratory. He wanted to know what authority I had to tell him to get a move on. When I informed him that I was the Principal of this new University, he wryly commented, "That will be the day."
But this was not the grand finale. The then Minister of Foreign Affairs decided that he wished to bring the Right Honourable Sir Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, to have a look at the University that I was still trying to get built. The Prime Minister eventually came to the University guarded by Scotland Yard personnel, followed by RSA Security personnel. Never shall I forget the sympathy in his eyes when I told him that we were still in the process of building. He had sympathy on me because there was no staff and also there were no students.
Only after the British Prime Minister had visited did staff and students arrive. Once I received a remarkable application for admission to the University. It read more or less as follows: Having passed Standard 6 by virtue of my brilliant brain, I now apply for admission for admission to your institution to be trained in bricklaying and lorry-driving.
I wish I had kept this letter!
During those early times a section of the press did not help us in our task. One foreign correspondent once asked me, with a supercilious smile, whether I could show him the thatched huts and theological foundation of this University I was building. With the aid of Black staff members I showed him, and he left in shameful confusion.
This sort of people made me weary. One day whilst I was preparing a lawn in front of my house, a car stopped, a man got out of the car, pointed at my house and wanted to know from me whether the Rector and Principal of the University was around. In great honesty, I told him, also pointing to the house, that he certainly was not there. The man drove off, and I returned sweating to the leveling of the garden.
But help for our task did come from other sources. For instance, the late Chief Mamabolo arrived at my house one night. His servants were driving two black oxen. Chief Mamabolo thanked me for having started the University in this part of the world and gave me the two black oxen, he then left. I still feel sorry for myself, trying that night to find a safe place for the black oxen in the black of the night. The next morning I sold them to a local butcher and banked the proceeds for the University.
At this stage I had formulated my message for the staff. These staff members were Black and White. My message was a simple one: Let us work for five years and then talk.
But in between these incidents and the work, I had to find a means of relaxation. So I returned to the things I knew. Simple things - horses and hunting. In the direction of Lekganyane, Mamabolo, Sandsloot, further north I rode, stabling the horses near my home.
One night I brought a dead lion which I had shot in the Venda area back to my house. The next morning I was obliged to lure the horses back to their stable with sugar, because they had apparently thought that the Devil himself had come to their doorstep.
As a member of the Akademie veir Wetenskap en Kuns; as a member of the Council of the University of South Africa; as an Officer in the Defence Force of our Fatherland; with many Black friends in the veld who had risked their lives with me, I am proud to say that the University of the North shall always stir a chord in my heart, especially when the stirring is caused by leaders, born and bred there - students who entered the University of Life thereafter and are still complying with its more difficult syllabus.
A final thought on the Field Marshal Montgomery of Alamein, who also visited the University. It was by that time functioning as a University when I asked him what his life's formula was, he stated in simple terms that he did not like a person who sat behind him - as though he intended to stab him in the back. Those who were present will well remember that I stood up and went and sat in the front row of the audience, proving to him that I was no traitor.
Reminiscences of the Second Rector and Principal of the University of the North Dr BT Boshoff
On the first of December 1969 I entered the expensively carpeted and beautifully paneled office of the Rector and Principal of the University College of the North - the university college destined to become within a few weeks the University of the North. Having heard while I was still in Pretoria a wide variety of opinions purported to have been expressed by members of the staff, both White and Black, and even some students, of how soon the new Rector will have to resign and go back to the job he knows, I believe that I sat down on the Rector's chair with some misgivings, wondering what I had let myself in for.
Why I had the audacity to accept the post was not difficult to determine. I was appointed Deputy Secretary for the Department of Bantu Education, in the previous year. It very soon became clear to me that as Secretary of Education in the Transkei I had outgrown the head office atmosphere of Bantu Education, and the Rectorship of the University came as a relief from a situation that had the makings of confrontation.
One of the very first persons to welcome me in my office was Professor Kgware. I immediately came into contact with the very sensitive situation the University for Blacks had - and I believe still has-to deal with. In due course tea was served ... in two different cups; one was of beautiful bone china, while the other was thick, glazed earthenware specimen. Fortunately I was in a position to take the earthenware cup, leaving the other for my visitor. I wonder whether Professor Kgware still remembers the incident. Fortunately I had set aside that way of doing things many years before. Now I think it is the time to laugh at those traditional ways of doing things that a white person should sip tea from a beautiful cup while the black person sip his tea from thick ugly earthenware cup.
However there I was, Rector and Principal of a college in the bush. I very soon discovered an amazing paradox. Many people, including some academics who had been so highly critical of the establishment of the University, and who were responsible for coining the term, college in the bush, were showing signs of coming around to recognize and to accept the University as a University - thanks to the great work that was done by my predecessor Professor ET Potgieter and members of staff. On the other hand - in some quarters - impeccable supporters of the government policy were rather slow in ceding this recognition. Please note .. some quarters not all.
I have on my desk my visitors' book and paging it through and reading the names of the many people that passed through my office, I am extremely grateful for the wonderful opportunity I had by virtue of the Rectorship of the University of the North. Looking at South Africa through the eyes of very intelligent and correctly informed visitors from abroad. One of them, who at the time of his visit was the Dean of Balliol College, Oxford, and who was guest of the University of the Witwatersrand exclaimed: But you are not managing a University. You are managing the affairs of your country! How right he was.
The relationship with the students was always difficult. No doubt there were reasons, but I believe that one of the more important reasons was explained to me one Saturday morning on my way to Polokwane. I always gave students lifts into town. On this occasion I was dressed in shorts, in my private car and on my way to the golf course. I lifted four students. I must explain that they were first-year students who had just arrived. The incident occurred before the official opening of the University that year.
After usual greetings I asked, Do you know who I am? No, - came the reply.
Well I am the Rector, Professor Boshoff. Silence. In the rear-view mirror I saw surprise on the faces of the three of them sitting at the back.
Are you surprised that I am the Rector? I can see that you are surprised. Why are you surprised? Silence.
I continued the conversation with the students: Are you willing to tell me why are you surprised? You never expected the Rector to give you a lift?"
The student sitting next to me had by then overcome his suspicious and began to talk freely and openly. He told me that his parents lived in Soweto that he had arrived at the University with fear in his heart because of what he had been told about the University and the Rector. His friends agreed with him. One also came from Soweto, the other from Garankuwa, and the fourth from Kimberly.
I realized then that we were fighting a losing battle - unless, to use the modern phraseology, we were willing to bury the holy cows ... one of them being the notion that God had given us special task of doing good to the Blacks, providing laws to compel them to accept the good things we did for them - such as providing them with their own University!
Excerpted from Turfloop: Conscious Pariah Copyright © 2010 by Chris Kanyane. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.