While every country that YaleGALE has visited has had a different university culture, South Africa has been working toward a new non-racial post-apartheid one – from universities with distinct and varied histories rooted in apartheid. For this reason, YaleGALE chose to visit a variety of universities facing different challenges in alumni relations. We visited 5 universities in three regions of the country to experience major metro, regional urban, and rural campuses. With air transport and long bus rides between venues, logistics imposed considerable scheduling constraints – which forced some conferences to be shorter than we would have liked. We participated in five conferences, two days of internal training, a planning retreat, and various dinner/reception exchanges.

U.S. Consul General Christopher Rowan addressing YaleGALE participants

For this trip, we were fortunate that primary contacts at South African hosting universities had participated in the Yale Global Alumni Leadership Forum at Yale in November of 2015 (YaleGALE @Yale 2015). These included Peter Maher, Director of Alumni Relations: Head of Alumni Relations and Annual Fund Office at the University of Witwatersrand, Paul Geswindt, Director Alumni Relations at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Lungile Jacobs, Deputy Director of the Development and Alumni Department at the University of Cape Town, and Samantha Castle, Alumni Relations Manager at the University of the Western Cape. Their @Yale experience helped inform their visions of what a YaleGALE exchange could accomplish and how to best organize it for each of their universities.

The mission officially began on Tuesday evening, June 28, with a gracious welcome and briefing by U.S. Consul General Chris Rowan of the Johannesburg Consulate.

Large building lintel over a door, with the words "Yale Telescope" carved into it

The next day we felt right at home as we drove along Yale Road on the campus of the University of Witwatersrand. The road was named as part of a cooperative venture in astronomy from 1925 to 1952, when the Yale Telescope was located there. Though the observatory was closed in 1952 and the telescope shipped to Australia, the building remains.

Prof. Lee Berger speaking to YaleGALE participants at the Wits Club

During lunch at the Wits Club, Prof. Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand explained the importance of his most recent finds of early hominins at the Cradle of Humankind. In the afternoon, the YaleGALE group toured the Sterkfontein caves in the Cradle of Humankind where fossils of important early hominins have been found.

Later in the week, more recent historical events were put in context with visits to the Apartheid Museum and other moving memorials to the anti-apartheid liberation struggle: Lilliesleaf Farm, Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto and the Hector Pietersen Memorial. These museum visits were essential introductions to South Africa’s cultural matrix for the YaleGALE forums and exchanges.

Social transformation was a topic of interest and concern at every conference and exchange, and often surfaced in different guises. As one South African described it, forums such as these inevitably include conversations that sound like “mini-TRCs” (referring to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission). However, despite the challenges facing South African universities, we found the people we met proud of the great strides taken in the past two decades as well as enthusiastic and hopeful for the future.

Yale alumni and people from Univ. of Witwatersrand seated around table at the conference in Sturrock Park

The first YaleGALE in South Africa conference was hosted in Johannesburg on June 30, by the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) at their Sturrock Park Sports Complex. Wits’ history goes back well over a century. It is one of the top universities in South Africa as well as the third oldest in continuous operation. Prior to the end of apartheid, it served primarily white (English heritage) students though its students and faculty struggled against apartheid rules. The language of instruction was English rather than Afrikaans. Since the end of apartheid, the student body has diversified, though like many South African universities, transformation issues remain among the faculties.

People seated around a table at a break out session at Wits conference

Welcoming remarks were delivered by Peter Maher for Wits, as well as Kathy Edersheim ’87, Senior Director for the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) and Chair of YaleGALE. Ben Slotznick ’70, ’73 Dra, Producer for YaleGALE in South Africa introduced the sessions. The morning program began with a set of breakout sessions, followed by topics presented in plenary. Lunch was served in the facility followed by afternoon sessions.

In addition to professionals, staff and volunteers from Wits, attendees included Danie Ferns, Development Manager of the Tshwane University of Technology. YaleGALE team members led sessions focusing on topics such as Volunteer Engagement, Leadership Cultivation, Affinity Groups, and Developing a Culture of Giving Back. Discussions were far ranging – including raw recollections by YaleGALE participants of Yale in the 1960s when the campus was wracked by student protests and disruptions similar to those currently being experienced in South Africa. The conference ended with appreciative comments from Wits Professor Conrad Mueller, an elected member of the Executive Committee of Wits University’s Convocation.

The Hunterstoun Center in Hogsback, photograph of Vysotsky from Creative Commons

On Saturday, July 2, the group traveled to Hogsback in a rural part of the Eastern Cape, high in the Amathole Mountains. The group had Tea at the University of Fort Hare’s Hunterstoun Centre in Hogsback (pictured above), where we were welcomed by Prof. Gideon de Wet, Executive Dean, Research and Development of the Goven Mbeki Research and Development Center at the University. We were also welcomed by Hunterstoun Center Director Liz Thomas, and Francis Wilson, Prof. Emeritus of the University of Cape Town and Visiting Professor at Yale. Prof. Wilson grew up at Hunterstoun and his family donated Hunterstoun to the University. Prof. Wilson was instrumental in bringing YaleGALE to Fort Hare and elsewhere in South Africa.

Fort Hare old campus

Hogsback overlooks the town of Alice, home of the University of Fort Hare, founded in 1916. The University has been celebrating its Centenary. YaleGALE was pleased to participate in this momentous occasion. Historically, Fort Hare was the premier university in all of sub-Saharan Africa for blacks, educating Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Mogabe, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and Seretse Khama. It was open to all ethnicities until 1959 when the government nationalized it and imposed strict apartheid rules. Later Desmond Tutu served as university chaplain.

There has been a Yale connection to Fort Hare from the beginning. The first graduate of Fort Hare (and one of the first blacks to obtain a BA from a South African university) was ZK Matthews ’34 MA who went on to obtain a Masters from Yale before returning to teach at Fort Hare, and ultimately become its Acting Principal. ZK was both an intellectual and political force in Southern Africa, and among the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) in the generation before Nelson Mandela. For more on ZK click here, or see

Deputy Vice Chancellor Larry Obi of University of Fort Hare addressing YaleGALE participants, members of the Fort Hare faculty, and Fort Hare students at Nutwoods in Hogsback

The evening of July 2, YaleGALE hosted a Friendship Dinner at Nutwoods in Hogsback for members of the University of Fort Hare. Attendees included Deputy Vice Chancellor Larry Obi, Prof. Eunice Seekoe, Head of the School of Health Sciences at University of Fort Hare and organizer of the Fort Hare Centenary Conference, Dr. Mamadi Matako, Head of Graduate Studies at Fort Hare, as well as Liz Thomas, Prof. Wilson, and Prof. de Wet along with some current students. Several heated table discussions ensued among the South Africans about the pace of transformation.

The next day at the Centenary Conference, the YaleGALE team took a short walking tour of the Fort Hare Campus in Alice. The team also discussed alumni relations educational issues with Dr. Mamadi Matako, head of Graduate Studies at Fort Hare and Aphiwe Numezci and Patience Nkala of the alumni relations office.

Many people seated in auditorium at a plenary of YaleGALE conference at NMMU

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 5, the YaleGALE team arrived in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape for an exchange with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). NMMU is one of the “new” South African universities, formed from merging formerly segregated institutions. NMMU was created in 2005 from the Port Elizabeth Technikon (with roots in the Port Elizabeth Art School founded in 1882), the University of Port Elizabeth originally founded under apartheid for whites, with instruction in both English and Afrikaans, and the Port Elizabeth Campus of Vista University originally founded under apartheid for urban blacks. Such new universities are striving to forge a new identity under a new name, as well as find ways to connect with those alumni who attended the predecessor institutions.

Evening reception at NMMU

After a short bus and walking tour of three of the university’s Port Elizabeth campuses, NMMU hosted a Friendship Reception at their North Campus Conference Centre. Because the part of the Campus is a protected nature reserve we were able to see springbok as we drove. Attendees included YaleGALE participants, NMMU alumni, and NMMU alumni relations professionals. After welcomes by Paul Geswindt, Director Alumni Relations at NNMU, Prof. Andrew Leitch, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, representing the Vice Chancellor, Mr. Evert Knoesen representing the Alumni Association Executive Committee, and Advocate Shuaib Rahim, an Alumni Executive Committee member, the assembled were entertained with musical interludes.

Outside view of South End Museum

Afterward NMMU hosted dinner at the South End Museum, which memorializes the diverse and integrated community of the South End in Port Elizabeth. This community was bulldozed in 1965 under apartheid, with forced relocations. Mr. Colin Abrahams (Museum Administrator) shared a few words about the museum and the history of the South End, as did Mr. Michael Barry, the NMMU Arts and Culture Senior Manager and a Museum Trustee. The group enjoyed the performance of a jazz group as dinner music.

People seated at long table at breakout session at NMMU, Paul Geswindt second from left

On the morning of Wednesday, July 6, NMMU hosted a conference on alumni relations at their North Campus Conference Centre. There were over 40 attendees from NMMU. Welcome and background remarks were given by Paul Geswindt and Kathy Edersheim ’87. Then, Ben Slotznick ’70, ’73 Dra introduced the morning sessions by posing the issue of “Alumni Relations in a Transforming World and Society”, eliciting key questions and comments from all of the NMMU attendees, using “turn and talk” and “3-4-5 Go!” facilitation techniques. Shuaib Rahim assisted in the morning workshops.

A conversation between a Yale alumnus and an NMMU alumnus, others conversing in the background

Morning sessions led by members of the YaleGALE team included discussions on Volunteer Engagement, Leadership Cultivation, Organizing Alumni by Their Interests and Passions, Exploring Avenues for Alumni to Engage in Community Service, and Alumni Relations and Fundraising. A networking lunch followed. Special thanks to Santosh Petersen, the Alumni Relations Coordinator, and Liscka Hendricks, the Alumni Relations Administrator, for all their work.

University of Cape Town Vice Chancellor Max Price (on left( talking to the people at the conference

By Thursday, July 7, the YaleGALE team was in Cape Town, participating in a conference with the University of Cape Town (UCT), in the Bremner Building at the UCT Lower Campus. UCT is the oldest university in South Africa and the second oldest extant university in Africa. UCT is one of the highest-ranked African university. It was established as an English speaking institution. During apartheid it was overwhelmingly white, though many of its students consistently opposed apartheid. Since the end of apartheid, the student body has diversified, though like many other South African universities, transformation issues remain among the faculties. UCT has recently joined Yale as a member of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) and UCT’s Graduate Business School is a member of the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM) organized by the Yale School of Management.

Lungile Jacobs (standing on right) talking to the people at the YaleGALE conference at UCT

Welcome remarks were delivered by Lungile Jacobs, Deputy Director of the Development and Alumni Department at the University of Cape Town, followed by an address by UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price. Also, Dianna Yach, Chair of Alumni Advisory Board delivered remarks. Kathy Edersheim ’87 presented background on the Association of Yale Alumni. Other sessions for this conference were held in plenary session and led by members of the YaleGALE team, after which a discussion of “Alumni Relations in a Transforming Society” was led by Raenette Gottardo ’03 Yale World Fellow, a former member of the South African parliament and adjunct faculty at UCT, along with Charles Dumas ’79 JD, Professor Emeritus at the Pennsylvania State University and former faculty at the University of the Free State in South Africa. The conference concluded in late afternoon with remarks by Dianna Yach and Ben Slotznick ’70, ’73 Dra.

Musicians playing as guests arrive for dinner reception for Yale and UCT alumni

After a quick bus tour of the UCT Campus, including iconic buildings and vistas, UCT hosted a Friendship Reception and Dinner for the YaleGALE group at the Royal Country Club, with African music and dancing.

Breakout discussion session at the University of the Western Cape, a UWC alumnus is speaking

Friday, July 8, brought the final conference of the trip at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) at their Chemical Science Building. UWC was established under apartheid as a university for coloured people only, though later, blacks were admitted. Now it admits students of all races. It is proud of its history of creative struggle against oppression, discrimination and disadvantage. However, like similar universities it struggles with outreach to older alumni from the apartheid era who have bitter memories of university.

Cecilia Conrad speaking at panel discussion, seated next to Pro Vice Chancellor Patricia Lawrence

The conference was arranged by Samantha Castle, Alumni Relations Manager at the UWC. After a welcome by Pro Vice-Chancellor Patricia Lawrence, the conference proceeded with three sets of breakout sessions. The YaleGALE team along with UWC staff and alumni led the discussion sessions. Panelists included Pro Vice-Chancellor Lawrence who joined the panel on “Cultivating a Culture of Giving Back”, with Brian Wynn ’73, Ian Glenday ’70, and Dr. Cecilia Conrad, a YaleGALE team member and Managing Director of the MacArthur Foundation; Deputy Vice-Chancellor Pamela Dube of UWC, who joined the panel on “Volunteer Engagement” with Stuart Cohen ’70, Prof. Rosa Fuller ’80, and Scott Clarke ’02; Samantha Castle who joined the panel on “Reunions, Homecomings and Leadership Assemblies”, and Joe Samuels, an active alumni in the Gauteng Chapter, who joined the panel on “Regional Associations” which include Roy Niedermayer ’69 and Ralph Wrobley ’57.

Discussion at a breakout session at UWC

After a late lunch, the conference concluded with final remarks and a networking session, before everyone rushed to beat Friday afternoon traffic – in order to get to the Consul General’s reception across town.

U.S. Consul General Teddy Taylor conversing with guests at the YaleGALE reception at his home.

U.S. Consul General Teddy Taylor hosted a reception for YaleGALE at his residence. Others invited to the event included Fulbright, Humphrey, and Mandela-Rhodes Scholars, as well as alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship – the Young African Leaders Initiatives (YALI/MWF). Also invited were local university contacts of the Consulate, such as Dr. Azwitevhelwi Prins Nevhutalu, Rector and Vice Chancellor of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. It was a welcome opportunity to have more relaxed discussions with Patricia Lawrence and Samantha Castle, and again see Paul Geswindt. Special thanks for planning the event go to Kimberly McClure and Jane Carpenter-Rock of the Consulate’s Public Affairs Section.