Dr MG Buthelezi and Mr HF Oppenheimer

The then Chief Minister of KwaZulu, Chief Mangosuthu G Buthelezi, first put forward the idea of establishing a tertiary education institution specialising in technical subjects in 1974 at a meeting with the Chairman of the Anglo American Corporation and De Beers Consolidated Mines, Mr Harry F Oppenheimer. The proposal was taken up by the Anglo American and De Beers Chairman’s Fund, and (although funds were not immediately available to construct such an institution), research was commissioned to investigate the potential in South Africa for the training and employment of black technicians.

This work was undertaken by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research unit (SALDRU) of the University of Cape Town, which analysed the enrolment of the then existing advanced technical education centres and calculated that the output of engineering technicians in 1976 was 1035, whereas there was a demand for 3000 additional technicians per annum. Thus if black youths were to become available for training, an annual output of 2000 engineering technicians could be considered. SALDRU then ascertained the willingness of employers to employ black technicians if they were to become available. The response was impressive and it indicated that the categories most in immediate demand were mechanical, civil and construction, electrical and chemical engineering.

As the SALDRU study by the Nigel Bloch showed that there was an immediate need and demand for black technicians, Mr Oppenheimer undertook that  The Anglo American and De Beers group Chairman’s Fund would provide R5 million to build the necessary facilities. At a later stage, Mobil Oil, AECI and the SA Sugar Millers’ Association agreed to sponsor the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Rembrandt and Distillers Corporation groups provided the establishment of a Commercial and Secretarial Department. LTA Limited added funds for the expansion of the Civil Engineering Department so that Construction Engineering could be included in the curriculum.

In mid-1977 the go-ahead was given for the project to begin and it was decided by the KwaZulu Cabinet that the institution would be named ‘Mangosuthu’, the first name of KwaZulu’s Chief Minister, Dr Buthelezi, the man who conceived the idea of a technikon in KwaZulu.

An eminently suitable site for the technikon was found in Umlazi which, while part of KwaZulu, is also part of the Durban metropolitan area. Umlazi Township is a township developed in 1967 for Black people during the apartheid era. It is located south-west of Durban and is the second largest township in the country after Soweto. At the time, it was a large and rapidly growing area of some 370 000 people which is close to and easily accessible from the major industrial area as well as the city centre of Durban and the then Louis Botha Airport, later to become Durban International Airport and has now been relocated to the North Coast and renamed King Shaka International Airport.

 The architects, Consultant and an Advisor

Infrastructure Development and Planning for Further Intakes…


Back then; during the planning stages, a leading Durban firm of architects, Messrs Hallen, Theron and Partnes, Inc. was appointed to prepare the design of the Technikon in association with Julian Elliot, a planning consultant. An advisor to the planning team, Dr M L Hart of the University of Cape Town, conducted a further study which indicated that the estimated new annual student demand at Mangosuthu Technikon from South African blacks could, by 1990, be of the order of 2000, of which KwaZulu alone would generate 400 to 500.

It was clear, however, that because the entrance qualifications of this Technikon were to be set at a high level-Standard 10 with a pass in Mathematics and Science, or an N3 – the intake in the early years of the Technikon’s operation would be much smaller than that. In view of the urgency of the demand for technicians and of the need to build up the institution in an orderly fashion, it was decided to open the Technikon as soon as possible and for that purpose preliminary but permanent buildings were designed and built in which teaching began in 1979. These buildings were at the site now referred to as Technology Station in Chemicals (TSC).

When the Technikon moved into its main buildings on completion in September 1981, the preliminary buildings were converted to serve temporarily as additional residential accommodation until a new hostel was completed in 1983. Later on, the preliminary buildings served as the Earth Sciences faculty.

“When we started working here in July 1979; the Technikon had moved to the current site and the first buildings were called ‘The garages’. Gosh, we were so young and so enthralled by this Technikon that held such a beacon of hope at the height of the Apartheid period,” recalls the first three lecturers, Messrs John Wimbush, Gavin Gradwell and Des Mack.