National University of Lesotho: History

The origins of the National University of Lesotho go back to April 8, 1945, when a Catholic University College was founded at Roma by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy of Southern Africa.

The establishment of this College was a realisation of a decision taken in 1938 by the Synod of Catholic Bishops in South Africa to provide African Catholic students with post-matriculation and religious guidance. The Catholic University College was founded in an isolated valley 34 kilometers from Maseru in a temporary primary school building at Roma Mission.

In 1946 the College moved from the temporary building to the present site. This was made possible by the allocation of some 52 acres of land to the College by the Paramount Chief. In 1950, the Catholic University College was ceded to the Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Pius XII College prepared its students for the external degrees of the University of South Africa (UNISA).

By September 27 1954, having satisfied itself that Pius XII College was an academically viable Institution, UNISA agreed to enter into a formal agreement - thereby granting an "Associate College" status to the College. This development was of major significance to the Roma intellectual community as it entailed a certain degree of "decentralisation" in certain specific areas on the part of UNISA, e.g. Pius Xil College assumed greater responsibility for tuition and examinations. Indeed, between 1954-60 both the academic and physical growth of the College accelerated. Fathers Beaule, Quirion, and Guilbeault
(then Rector), participated actively in the early development of the college.

In the early 60s the College experienced difficulties academically and financially. UNISA unilaterally decided to redefine its relationship with the College and, finally, the main benefactor of the College directed its resources elsewhere.The denominational character of the College had made it difficult for international organizations, agencies, and foundations to fund such an institution of higher learning. Despite these problems, advice received from Sir John Lockwood and Sir James Cook, both Vice-Chancellors' of British universities at the time, discouraged the College authorities from seeking an affiliation with either the University of London, or for that matter, any other overseas University. As early as 1952, attempts by the college to secure a special relationship with the University of London,
through the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas (Commonly referred to as the I-VC) had been 'unsuccessful.

In view of the prevailing difficulties, seen as a danger to the development of university education in Basutoland in 1962, the General of the Oblate Congregation requested Fathers Banim, 0. M.I. and A. W. Hall, O.M.I. to visit Roma and assist the College in finding a practical solution to its problems. The South African Government had declared its intention not to admit African students from outside South Africa into the University College of Fort Hare, and the Natal Medical School (Wentworth) after December 31 1953. Although this ban was relaxed for Basutoland students until 1958, the writing was on the wall.

The College, which by 1959 had 171 students, 141 of whom were students from outside Basutoland - mainly from S. Africa, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland - was already deeply involved in contributing to the training of future civil servants and teachers for the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland. Clearly, the High Commission Territories (H.C.T) were indebted to Pius XII College
for its role in producing a cadre of educated women and men to tackle developmental problems after independence. On the other hand, the- College, which was going through a period of financial difficulties felt that it would be most appreciative if its efforts in providing the prerequisite manpower needs for the H.C.T. could be recognized both in cash and in kind. At the same time, it was apparent that
the H.C.T. also wanted to play a more significant role in the decision-making bodies of the College. In a curious way - the Catholic Church, the Basutoland Government, the University authorities and even the other H.C.T. territories sensed the need for a decisive step to be taken in order the re-define the role and the governance of the College.

Negotiations began with the view to establishing an inter-territorial, non- denominational University, principally to serve the H.C.T. Indeed, it has been said that by that time the three High Commission Territories were beginning to see the the College as destined to become a "University of the High Commission Territories". Progress was made to enable a deed of cession to be signed on June 13, 1963, the indemnity being met jointly by the Ford Foundation and H.M.'.s Government in the U.K.

The indemnity was signed between Sir Hugh Stephenson, then newly appointed High Commissioner acting on behalf of the projected new University, and at the time of signing the indemnity the facilities of the College, most of which were attributed to the period when Fr. Romeo Guilbeaut was Rector, had expanded rapidly. Besides the original houses and classrooms, residences which could accommodate 100 male and 70 Students, some 20 staff houses/flats, a modem science block, a kitchen and refectory block, administrative buildings, workshops, garage and a power plant were in existence. Also under onstruction was a new library building whose funding had been secured form the World Council of Churches, and the World University Service. Student numbers had grown from the original five, to 180. On January 1, 1964, Plus XII University College was replaced by the independent, non-denominational University of Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, and Swaziland with its own Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth 11. By virtue of the same Charter, the Oblate Fathers kept a close relation- ship with the U.B.B.S. through serving on the Council and teaching, as well as in the physical presence of Piux XII College House, a residence for the Oblate community.