THE UNIVERSITY began in 1916 as the South African Native College. It is the oldest black tertiary education institution in southern Africa. There is a certain irony in its position at Fort Hare, which was originally part of the Eastern Cape frontier defences against the Xhosa in the century-long Frontier Wars between black and white. The institution came into being as a result of the efforts of the early 20th century ‘black elite’, supported by many white liberals, particularly from local churches and missionary societies, and some African traditional leaders. Today, the University of Fort Hare has an academic and research staff of over 260 spread across its
three campuses at Alice, Bisho and East London.
The institution’s longevity was aptly recognised in 2005 when South Africa’s then President, Thabo Mbeki, conferred upon Fort Hare the Supreme Order of Baobab (Gold Class) award. The baobab tree is known for its resilience, strength and fortitude in the face of drought, pestilence and the erosive passage of time – apt symbolism for an institution that has endured many storms while at the same time training legions of men and women in a wide variety of fields.
Fort Hare’s main campus lies in the fertile Tyhume River valley, adjacent to the Eastern Cape town of Alice, and squarely in the region once known as the ‘independent’ homeland of Ciskei. The Bisho campus, just outside King William’s Town and sited close to the seat of present-day provincial government, has developed a reputation in public-service-related courses.
The East London campus has a well-established academic base in the university’s four faculties: Humanities and Social Sciences; Management and Commerce; Education; and Law. This campus also houses an Institute of Social and Economic Research and a Leadership Institute financed by a locally based private-sector company.
Facts and Figures at a Glance1
The University of Fort Hare had 8,526 students in 2006, 7,446 of which were contact students and 1,080 distance students. No details were available for the number of full-time and part-time students. Of the total, 7,425 were South African citizens and 1,012 were from other SADC countries, while 89 students were enrolled from non-SADC countries (HEMIS data, 2006).
Table 1: University of Fort Hare - Summary of Enrolment Numbers (Actual data, 2006)
Number of students enrolled per level of study
Major Field of Study
Total Number of Students (Headcount)
Under- graduate degree/ diploma
Post-graduate degree/ diploma
Other qualifications (short courses, certificates etc.)
Science, Engineering & Technology
Business, Management & Law
Humanities and Social Sciences
Source: HEMIS data.
In 2006 the University employed 261 academic and research staff, of which 93 were female and 168 males (HEMIS data, 2006). No information was available on the distribution of academic and research staff per faculty.
 All data presented in this section is headcount data.