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Officials announce grants to support projects with South Africa (Released: 9/06/00)

By Allison Thompson, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- The University of Connecticut's role as an institution with increasing global participation has been recognized with the award of two grants totaling more than $1 million to support joint projects with South Africa.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $665,000 grant to the partnership between UConn and South Africa's African National Congress (ANC). The partnership promotes international understanding and cooperation between South Africa and the U.S.

In addition, the University received a $460,000 grant from the United Negro College Fund for linkage activities with the University of Fort Hare, South Africa's premier university for black students. The linkage will involve UConn faculty, staff and administrators in a mutually beneficial partnership with colleagues at Fort Hare.

Founded in March 1999, the UConn-ANC Partnership has three components: archives, oral history and comparative human rights, which will be an interdisciplinary academic program. Under the terms of the partnership, UConn has been designated as the ANC's North American partner in preserving the ANC archival materials. Other partnership activities include recording and transcribing the oral histories of ANC party members and leaders, and training South African historians. The Mellon Foundation grant will support both of these projects.

"The UConn-ANC Partnership promises to link us more closely to one of the great social movements of our time," says University of Connecticut President Philip E. Austin.

The partnership came about because of initiatives taken by Amii Omara-Otunnu, associate professor of history at UConn, and Narissa Ramdhani, his former student, who is now the director of the ANC Historical Archives Project. The partnership is a key element in the University's goal to foster education and research in the area of human rights.

"The ANC represents something extraordinarily special in the history of human rights," Omara-Otunnu, executive director of the UConn-ANC Partnership, director of the comparative human rights program and program director of the UConn-University of Fort Hare linkage, says. "The ANC had a clear vision for a society that would practice social justice. This partnership is a strategic decision because of commonalities in the history of race relations in the U.S. and in South Africa. We can learn a lot from them, and they can learn a lot from us."

The goal of the work funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is to contribute to the reconstruction and preservation of balanced, inclusive approaches to South African history, recognizing the role of black South Africans and other previously disadvantaged groups. Until now, the history has been largely written from the perspective of the apartheid regime.

Founded in 1912, the ANC was the leading organization in the struggle to end apartheid. Now the major and ruling political party in South Africa, the ANC has long been a source of inspiration in situations of political and racial conflict. Among those closely associated with the ANC's struggle is Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president.

Despite its long and remarkable history, much of the ANC's story has not been recorded but exists mostly in the memories of those who participated in this largely underground movement. The grant will fund the recording and transcription of the oral histories of about 200 ANC party members and leaders, many of whom are now elderly.

The histories will be made available to scholars for research and study at UConn's Thomas J. Dodd Research Center and at the University of Fort Hare. Located in Alice, South Africa, Fort Hare is the official repository of the ANC archives and the alma mater of many of the ANC leaders. The materials will be digitized and published on the Internet as well. Through a collaboration between UConn's Center for Oral History and staff of the ANC, the project also will provide technical assistance and will help train historians in South Africa to compile oral histories of ANC members.

"The linkage with the Dodd Center and the University of Connecticut provides the opportunity for cooperation in archival projects including oral history programs, as well as in comparative human rights," says Dr. Frene Ginwala, speaker of South Africa's National Assembly. "Sharing information on the history of the conflicts of the 20th Century will guide us as we collectively seek strategies to ensure that we do not repeat the errors of the past, but learn from them to secure the peace we seek."

The grant also will fund the first phase of archives management work at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, at the University of Fort Hare and at UConn's Dodd Center. This work will include planning the short- and long-term disposition of ANC documents. Because the ANC was banned by the apartheid government, much of its work was conducted outside of South Africa. As a result, ANC documents were scattered in more than 30 countries.

The ANC archives encompass correspondence between party leaders, minutes of committee meetings, and financial records, including information regarding the efforts to develop support outside of Africa to bring international pressure against apartheid. Among the documents are papers of individual leaders, including Mandela. Currently the collection consists of more than 1,500 boxes of unprocessed material at the ANC headquarters and 244 linear meters of processed material at the University of Fort Hare.

Under the second grant, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and administered by the United Negro College Fund, UConn is establishing a linkage with the University of Fort Hare. The $460,000, three-year capacity-building grant will enable UConn faculty, staff and administrators from across the institution to form mutually beneficial relationships with colleagues at Fort Hare, which is the oldest and most illustrious historically black institution in Southern Africa.

"Our commitment to higher education in Africa reflects a realistic assessment that in multiple ways our well-being as a society will depend on the level of opportunity that exists for millions beyond our shores," says Austin. "The closer the connections we forge and the more we can link our own students and our own institutions to the great cross-currents of change in the developing world, the closer we will come to attaining our own goals of educational excellence and breadth."

Since 1994, when apartheid officially came to an end, Fort Hare and South Africa's other traditionally black colleges - long deprived of resources - have faced new challenges, as the country's well endowed, historically white institutions have begun offering grants and scholarships to top black students, cutting deeply into enrollment at the former black colleges. The Tertiary Education Linkages Project, which started July 1, is designed to strengthen the historically black colleges.

Fort Hare's strengths include an impressive roster of alumni, such as Mandela; the late Oliver Tambo, a long-time anti-apartheid activist and twice president of the African National Congress; Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe; and Govan Mbeki, currently chancellor of the University of Fort Hare father of the current president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.

Academic links will be forged in the areas of comparative human rights, education and agriculture. Other priorities identified by Fort Hare include training for top management, and advice on improving fund raising, communications strategies, enrollment and retention of students, and college readiness for academically underprepared students, as well as faculty and student exchanges, areas in which UConn has recently made dramatic progress.

"Our choice of Connecticut was a deliberate one as we were looking for a solid and reliable long-term international partner," says Derrick Swartz, vice chancellor of the University of Fort Hare. "I believe that we have indeed found one in UConn."

In July, a UConn delegation of top administrators visited Fort Hare to gain a first-hand understanding of the university and began to develop strategies to implement the linkage. It was the first of a series of visits in both directions that will take place during the course of the grant.

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