The key institution in higher education for Africans “luminaries” is in dire straits.
Fort Hare offered an academic education to blacks from across sub-Saharan Africa, creating a pro-British black African elite.
The alumni featured prominently in subsequent independence movements and governments of newly independent African countries.
Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Sobukwe (of the Pan Africanist Congress), Desmond Tutu, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo all studied there.
The institution in Alice in the Eastern Cape was initially funded by British missionaries with a political goal.
Mandela studied at Fort Hare for almost two years in the 1940s, but left the institution without a degree.
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.”
Fort Hare is currently in such financial distress that it has used student funding to pay staff.
The revelation is contained in a forensic report by FastTrac Freelance Business Specialists, which paints a picture of a university in financial crisis.
The document says the university received a R35-million advance payment from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme in December to settle claims.
Vice-chancellor Dr Mvuyo Tom admitted the university redirected student grants to pay salaries because it “had no choice”.
He called on students who owed money to pay what was due. “If they don’t, they won’t be allowed to write their exams.”