African Nationalism and Pan-Africanism at Fort Hare


The University of Fort Hare is celebrating its centenary this year as the cradle of African thought and it is of paramount importance that this institution be a place where the young minds of future African leaders are shaped with African knowledge and epistemology in order to solve the African problem and recreate the African reality. The institution has in the past produced leaders such as Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, Robert Mugabe, Mangaliso Sobukwe and Oliver Tambo; who have come out to restore the dignity of Africa and liberated Africa; it therefore becomes clear that the university has played a role in the struggle for democracy and the ending of colonialism in the African continent as whole, but what is the relevance of these two ideologies and philosophies at Fort Hare from now onwards? What role must they play and how? Are they there anymore? If not, why?

The role of African Nationalism and Pan-Africanism at Fort Hare

The doctrine of Nationalism is founded with the vision of the unification of Africa and all Africans, and it is thus difficult to talk about African Nationalism without Pan-Africanism. African Nationalism places “thought” at the centre of the movement and in the process of this unification of Africa and Africans ask the question; whose thoughts are we using to unify Africa? Ali Mazrui says “we can imagine intellectuals without Pan-Africanism, but it is difficult to imagine Pan-Africanism without intellectuals” (Mkandawire, 2005, p.2). This argument is true in the sense that it again questions the knowledge structure and form of the education advocated at African institutions where the minds and Characters are shaped.

Mangaliso Sobukhwe the founder of the Pan-Africanist Congress says “I said last that Fort Hare must be to the African what Stellenbosch is to the Afrikaner. It must be a barometer of African thought” (Pogrund, 1990, p. 34). It is interesting to note how much this speech has been quoted but yet we miss the crux of what Sobukhwe was talking about and the question he was posing about the structure and form of the education system in the country at the time (and still relevant today), the centring of the African within the system of education, the question of cultural information. These are very important in a university such as Fort Hare that has African minds in its hands, according to Molefi Kete Asante (1991) to centre a student in the process of education is to empower and provide self-esteem to that student.

It is important to note that Fort Hare is the home of the revolution of Africa and that it has to get the credit due to it. It is however important that we collectively evaluate our place and role in intelligentsia; as an institution that has a rich history what is our role in society today? How does African Nationalism guide our curriculum arrangement and how do we provide space for this ideology and philosophy in our advocacy for modernity. As an African institution we must push for modernity and a technological society but that must be defined within the cultural orientation and on grounds that do not undermine inhabitant, and that is of course the African.

The Question of centring

To be a “barometer of African thought” and “to be cradle of African thought” as Fort Hare has been coined, is to be a place where ancient African history is studied, ancient African knowledge and epistemological system and analysed and utilised to the benefit of the African continent. Fort Hare has done a lot to produce leaders who have played an extraordinary role in the struggle for democracy in Africa but the question of the legacy of colonialism vis-à-vis de-colonialism is yet to be the fundamental question in the idea of learning. The process by which a Pan-Africanist society is achieved is through African Nationalism and it is impossible to achieve this in an educational system that is Eurocentric (Eurocentric here being not only does it originate and based in European thought but advances a European agenda of domination).

In his book Consciencism Kwame Nkrumah says “A colonial student does not by origin belong to the intellectual history in which the university philosophers are such impressive landmarks. The colonial student can be so seduced by these attempts to give a philosophical account of the universe, that surrenders his whole personality to them. When he does this, he loses sight of the fundamental social fact, that he is a colonial subject” (Nkrumah, 1970, p. 3). The above statement by Dr Nkrumah brings forth the result caused by foreign/colonial education on the minds of the African student: self-alienation. Self-Alienation is a distortion of reality as much as it is a distortion of the self; any educational system that denies or refuses to teach about the great ancient civilizations of Africa is distorting reality and denies the contribution of Africa to world civilization. It further, as Molefi Asante assert, decentres the African child and miseducates the other nationalities.

The author of this document hereby brings up this argument of centring because the ideology of African Nationalism is unachievable if the education provided at the institution is not decolonised firstly and African centred. It is vitally important that African Nationalism and Pan-Africanism at Fort Hare be the guiding ideologies and philosophies at lecture halls in particular so that we not only produce African leaders but African leaders vested in African thought.

Fort Hare after democracy

It is of course notable that the author did not give a detailed history of the institution and the role of African Nationalism and Pan-Africanism within that history, this because if one analyses the above ‘agitation’ from Sobukhwe, one finds the obvious truth that these ideologies hadn’t fully (if not at all) been absolved into the university’s curriculum at the time the speech was made, the curriculum was to make of the African a servant of the European, a propellant of the colonial establishment. It is however important that we pose the question, what has changed since then? It is of course an obvious truth that the curriculum of all institutions in Africa including Fort Hare is suffering from ‘coloniality’, this is to say that the legacies of colonialism are still evident in the social orders and forms of knowledge, advanced in postcolonial studies of African universities and schools.

It is futile therefore to analyse the concept Africanism outside of decolonisation because in the process of decolonisation we therefore ought to build a new society, a new life,  a new reality and that starts in universities like Fort Hare (where the name itself gives an indication of the colonial memory). In his book decolonising the mind (1981), Ngugi wa thiong’o asserts that when you erase a people’s language, you erase their memory. This is also evident on the language policy of the university where the majority of the students are Africans but students are compelled to speak in the language of their former oppressors (if not still). The question of cultural education is vital in African institutions knowing that the imperialist does not only take away our mineral wealth but our cultural wealth as well, the ways of life, the ways of production, social relations and most importantly language. It is this reason that again the author goes back to Prof Ngugi’s argument that by removing their native language from their education they are separated from their history which is replaced by European history in European languages. This puts the lives of Africans more firmly in the control of the colonists.


One can say that African Nationalism and Pan-Africanism have a space to occupy at the university of Fort Hare but this is not very easy to say, as long as the institution does not make sure that it puts the African first. To put the African first is certainly not to provide an “education” for an African student but contextualize that education and make sure that engraved in that education is the culture of that student, in order to re-unite the African student with firstly herself and to re-unite her with her cultural systems. This helps the student in answering some of the pertinent questions about life such as: Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my purpose in life? These are but some of the questions each and every student want answered in order for her self-esteem to be elevated. One therefore sees that if Fort Hare is to be truly the cradle of African thought then it must make sure that it firstly decolonises the education and then centres the African student in the education system. It is therefore true that intellectuals have a responsibility of advancing the ideology and philosophy of African Nationalism in the education system in order for South Africa as a country to arrive at a Pan- Africanist society.





Reference List

Asante, K. M. (1991). Afrocentric Currculum. Philadelphia: Temple University.

Mkandawire, T. (2005). African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development. Pretoria: Unisa Press.

Nkrumah, K. (1970). Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonisation. USA: Paperback Edition.

Pogrund, B. (1990). How Can A Man Die Better:  The Life Of Robert Sobukwe. London: Peter Halban Publishers.

Wa Thiong’o, N. (1981). Decolonising the mind. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House.



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