In 1990 apartheid began to fall apart in South Africa. Following President Botha’s resignation, Fredrik Willem de Klerk took office. In a surprise move, de Klerk unbanned the African National Congress and other Black political parties, ended the Land Act and released political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. He began the steps to end apartheid and in 1991 started negotiations with Mandela and other Black political leaders to transition the country to majority rule. In 1994, Nelson Mandela won the first open and democratic election in South Africa, and in 1995 the new constitution was ratified.
Today, the University of the Western Cape is now one of the top universities in Africa. UWC is one of the only historically non-White universities to compete with the wealthy, historically White universities in South Africa. While the University of Missouri South Africa Education Program is not what caused that high ranking, the partnership between the two universities has helped the University of Missouri in its understanding of South Africa, provided support for the University of the Western Cape as they expanded and yielded exciting research projects.
Before the University of Missouri, the University of the Western Cape was only approached by American universities that wanted short-term, one-sided relationships. Usually these offers involved funding that mostly benefited the American university, were not meant to be long lasting and were patriarchal in nature. Missouri saw UWC for what it was, a school in a difficult situation with gifted academics, and wanted to learn from them and research with them. At the beginning of the partnership, it was hard to learn a great deal about South Africa, so because of the exchange program, Missouri professors had access no other American university had. After apartheid ended and the country returned to the international community, this partnership gave Missouri a leg up on engaging with South African academics and learning about South Africa.
Missouri approached UWC at a time of transition. It was, by design, a university at the periphery of South African academia. Jakes Gerwel’s mission to make UWC “an intellectual home for the Left” did not just mean introducing Left politics throughout the university. It meant reinvigorating the university across the board. In 1990, Gerwel hired Renfrew Christie as dean of research. Christie was a collaborator with the military wing of the ANC. His research for his Doctorate of Philosophy at Oxford University on uranium enrichment and power generation was used to orchestrate bombings on nearly every power plant in South Africa. As dean, he required professors to have PhDs when they previously were not required to. He enabled professors who had not published before to publish in international journals. UWC began making landmark strides in scientific research, and funding began pouring in. Because of hard work and innovative research, UWC is beginning to match its historically advantaged neighbors.
In the mid-1980s, UWC had some PhD graduates each year but not as many as the White designated universities. Yusuf Osman, the director of the dentistry program at UWC, said in the early 1990s only 20 people graduated a year with degrees in dentistry and there was no doctorate level program. The focus of the program was more on training practitioners, not investigating policy or creating new materials. Osman and the dental faculty became close with David Eick, a professor of oral and craniofacial Sciences at the University of Missouri Kansas City. “It made it so real for them. Reading something in the textbook, listening to what you’ve got to say…when David Eick came, they put a face to the name and suddenly all this came alive to them. At that stage…materials research was major and made great strides in this faculty,” Osman said. Eick would come to UWC every year, give lectures and look over PhD work. Eick was not the only one. Having external review for PhD candidates helped increase the output of the university. Today, UWC’s dental school is the largest in Africa.
The University of Missouri South Africa Education Program is more than just an exchange program. The universities have research projects together. The South African Traditional Medicines Research Group is a project started in 1997 out of UWC’s School of Pharmacy that looks to analyze the safety and effectiveness of African traditional medicines. Bill Folk, a biochemistry professor and senior associate dean at the MU School of Medicine, worked with Quinton Johnson, the head of the South African Traditional Medicines Research Group, on researching the effectiveness of Sutherlandia frutescens on boosting the immune systems of people with HIV/AIDS. The clinical trial started in 2008 was one of the largest and most thorough of any test of a traditional medicine in South Africa.
In 2014, UWC and Missouri took a step further in their partnership. The Green Nanotechnology Centre at UWC takes a novel approach to nanotechnology research. Creating nano particles can create a great deal of hazardous waste. This program takes the environment into consideration throughout the process of making nanotechnology and its application. Dr. Kattesh Katti received international notoriety after prostate cancer treatment with gold nano particles made from green tea showed promise for treating cancer in a safer way than chemotherapy or radiation. Katti has taught radiology, physics and biological engineering at the University of Missouri since 1990 and directs the University of Missouri Nanoparticle Production Core Facility. He is also the first professor to have a dual-appointment at both UWC and the University of Missouri.
The University of Missouri did not set out to end apartheid. Instead, they sought to enable one university to achieve its potential. They did this by working as partners, not patrons.
This project would not be possible without the support financial support of the Jack Fields Scholarship and the Missouri School of Journalism. Thank you to my project committee, David Rees (chair), Rita Reed and Brian Kratzer. Your guidance and mentorship through this project has been invaluable.
Thank you to everyone I interviewed for this project:
I would also like to thank:
And my family.