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R200m joint venture opens with a flourish in Eastern Cape


Prof. Sakhela Buhlungu (VC: UFH), Dr Naledi Pandor (Minister: DHET), Prof. Mandla Makhanya (Principal and VC: Unisa), and Prof. Rob Midgley (VC: WSU)

A R200-million university library, which will serve 18 000 students from three universities, was officially opened in East London on 27 October 2018 by Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Naledi Pandor.

Named after the late Eastern Cape-born political activist and scholar Phyllis Ntantala, the library is the culmination of a six-year partnership between Unisa, Walter Sisulu University (WSU), and University of Fort Hare (UFH).

The minister said that the brand new library would contribute significantly towards alleviating the acute shortage of study, research, and learning spaces for the three universities in the East London area. It has the capacity to seat about 2 500 students at any given time, and each university has its own floor.

“This ceremony is significant because it is the first joint venture educational facility successfully built to support teaching, learning, and research for the students and staff of three universities,” Pandor said.

Reflecting on the changing nature of libraries, the minister pointed out that modern university libraries required adequate space for student study and reading, extensive book collections, and increasing access to online journal resources.

A library for the electronic age

“This library aims at providing the space needed for a growing student body and book collection, as well as access to computer terminals and electronic resources and project areas to encourage peer learning among students. The multiple purposes of the library in the electronic age have, therefore, been taken into account by the partner universities,” she emphasised.

Professor Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, endorsed the minister’s view when he reiterated that one of the key issues raised repeatedly by students was the lack of access to appropriate library facilities. Even at Unisa, he said, which had the largest library in the Southern hemisphere and despite their regional access to libraries, students had never stopped complaining about a lack of study space, about constraining library hours, and about the availability of study materials and other facilities to support them in their studies.


The Phyllis Ntantala Collaborative Library in East London was built with funds provided by DHET (R100 million), Unisa (R50 million), UFH (R30 million), and WSU (R20 million). Image: DHET

Alleviating shortage of study, research, and learning spaces

“Their concerns are real and valid and, in fact, this vital aspect of the student experience has presented, and continues to present, an intractable problem for university managements,” Makhanya stated. “So you can imagine how thrilled we all are that we have been able to offer some relief to our students in this region, and, of course, to our respective institutions. We are very proud of that.”

Reflecting on the collaborative library project, WSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Rob Midgley said the joint project was a test case for many joint ventures to come between the universities.

UFH Vice-Chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu described the joint university as a unique experiment and said that the next project was to develop the area into a student precinct.

Ntantala, the mother of politician Pallo Jordan, was married to isiXhosa writer Archibald Campbell Jordan, and was an eminent academic, author, and feminist. Speaking on behalf of both families, Reverend Khazeka Ntantala-Somhlahlo said they were humbled by the honour from the three universities in immortalising her name.

Lead image by Michael Pinyana, Times Media

*Compiled by Sharon Farrell

Publish date: 2018/10/31

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