The town Alice was established in 1824 and it’s named after Queen Victoria’s daughter. It’s a mere 4 years younger than the establishment of Makhanda (then called Grahamstown).
In 1916, a university for black Africans was established and it was named University of Fort Hare. It produced unimaginable thinkers, who became global icons in all fronts and the history is recorded. The university is currently a shadow of its former glory, both administratively and in intellectual production.
The University of Fort Hare has collapsed for lack of better words. The collapse of the University of Fort Hare is not due to its directly having poor leadership (then and now perhaps). Its collapse is as a result of the fall of the town the institution lies on. From being mismanaged whilst the leadership of the university watched, the municipality being corrupted, providing poor service delivery and observing poor communications skills between ward councillors and community members.
The University of Fort Hare became a target of political abuse and all those things we see in the ailing municipalities. It is entangled in factions, poor governance and mismanagement; and has been the cash cow which everyone is entitled to milk.
It is not said that university leadership must be entangled in affairs of the running of a city but a university as a guardian of reason must inquire on issues that will eventually have a direct impact on themselves and society at large.
Once a town with a university through a deliberately defunctionalized municipality collapses, there will be no new opportunities to revive or restore it. Those responsible for the downfall will look for the next pot of gold for survival, based purely on their own selfish interests.
As anticipated, the University of Fort Hare became the next available vehicle for survival when the town plunged into disarray due to mismanagement.
On the other side, however, Makana Municipality in Makhanda is also in trouble and collapsing (albeit others like myself may argue that it has already.) People have no jobs (others no job security), no recreational facilities and basically no opportunities of hope and political dominance will drop for the governing political party and political power will end for others.
What will follow should the latter occur?
Rhodes University, East Cape Midlands TVET College, Kingswood College, St. Andrews College, Graeme College, Victoria Girls, etc, will by default, be seen to be the new institutions of hope. Accompanying this prominent status will be the desire for survival and possible political abuse.
There will be no shame when people demand to serve in Councils, School Governing Boards and some even demanding appointment to senior positions in these educational institutions.
Their interest will not be about education, it will be purely based on self-preservation and gluttony.
The national and international regard of Rhodes University that produces top journalists, legal minds and operating a successful Investec Business School will decline, if not perish eventually.
The interest will be about business opportunities (tenders in Municipal language), nepotism and all the activities which led to the municipality collapsing.
In Makhanda, there is a lack of imagination for a city with a globally recognized university, a TVET College and several schools where the elite in this country and across the borders send their children to.
There is a lack of imagination for a city with a maximum-security correctional services centre and a psychiatric hospital with no sense of urgency in local economic development.
There is a lack of imagination, for a city with a railway line that has not been functioning for years and yet the city is nestled close to 3 coastal towns and could easily be the centre of inland transportation to the coast.
Rhodes University, as one of the country’s leading educational institutions, must show its purpose as a national asset that is a source of knowledge, innovative thinking and a producer of skilled personnel with credible credentials and alarm Makhanda of the possible trajectory.
If one takes a stroll inside the township, Joza, you hardly find spaza shops owned by locals. Local people tend to dominate the liquor establishments, running taverns.
The entire spaza shop value chain is operated by foreign nationals with food store located in the main street of the town, passing to East London and that must worry about the future of the city.
With all due respect to the autonomy of the Rhodes University, its Investec Business School must inject the missing entrepreneurial intellectual presence by assisting locals on entrepreneurial thoughts for local economic development. There must be stimulation of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking for the locals to think outside the economic control by foreign nationals.
It’s evident that people of Makhanda have been failed by the elected leadership and have been marginalized from opportunities that will allow them space in the economy for their own development and economic growth. This, therefore, means the leadership of post-schooling in the city must take that space and not allow a vacuum to exist by making sure that academics, labour unions and student formations debate the State of Affairs of Makhanda.
They must, unfortunately (without wanting to) talk about the skills, policies and leadership required to truly develop Makhanda and those skills must be produced from the people of Makhanda for their own future.
If we do not rise and talk about these issues, what happened to Alice and the University of Fort Hare will become second nature to all small towns hosting prestigious institutions of knowledge and human development.
The education and business forums must have the conversation about the city is the source for hope and that the university must continue to attract local talent, upskill it to be agents of social justice and lead a decent conversation of business investment.
The history is too rich to be buried under a deliberately collapsed municipality. Sive Madala Gumenge is a former SASCO WC Leader and an Education Activist.