Deep in the interior of Eastern Cape Province is the tiny town of Alice, on the Tyhume River, named after a daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria, and when I first visited 18 years ago was in the Batustan nation of Ciskei, a nation recognised only by South Africa.
I was visiting the local university, University of Ft. Hare, an amazing institution that has had 3 Nobel Peace Prize winners as students. I was with my friend Sieg Gereicke, an Africaaner who was in charge of training for the area Black Department of Education. We were going to visit one of the leaders of the university called Rev. Makhenkesi Arnold Stifole, who was the leader of the Youth Wing of the 'ANC' ,The African National Congress, whose archives are now in its library.
As we drove through the wrought iron arch over the entrance Sieg said. "Be very careful what you say, he doesn't like whites too much." Anyway we at least were on time for our visit, and the Rev.Stifole was an imposing figure. He took us for a stroll around the campus, past the student union building where a young Nelson Mandela had spoken to fellow students from a balcony, before later being kicked out of the university. We walked on to the rugby field and Stifole said that perhaps I could raise some money for well needed tractors, graders and team uniforms.
"Rev, you are a communist and I am a capitalist, even though a not very wealthy one. I will try and get you a loan but charge you a steep rate of interest!! My friend Sieg looked mortified at me and expected an outburst. Instead, there was a pregnant pause and the Reverend burst out laughing at my dry sense of humour, and all was OK after that. We got on really well, as I learned about the history. It was the first western style university in Africa to try and bring all races together, and attracted students from all over the continent, many of whom became famous-and infamous leaders.
They include, Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oliver Tambo, Goven Mmbeki, Robert Sobukwe, Mangosutha Buthelezi, Dennis Brutos, Chris Hani... Foreign leaders who were educated there include Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Seretse Khama of Botswana
Today Rev. Stifole is now a member of the cabinet and minister of Sport and Recreation in the South African government.
Earlier in the day I had been to the seemingly abandoned former elementary school where Mandela had been educated and learned in his native Xhosa language, one of the 11 official languages of the rainbow nation. We had been staying at a small hotel in Ft. Beaufort, the centre of what is know as 'Settlers Country'. Sieg and his father owned a citrus farm just outside town which we visited and drove up and down the rows of orange and lemon trees as a shower ended and a rainbow came out over the hills.
Fifty kilometres to the west on the road from Port Elizabeth, past the Addo Elephant Reserve we stopped to have a lunch time discussion with teachers at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, which has a thriving town and gown atmosphere, and where many literary,art and horticultural festivals are held throughout the year and which is a big tourist mecca.