Our yesterday is not so far away but still so vivid. The birth of Mangosuthu Technikon was not an easy birth. The government of 1974 still espoused the Verwoerdian doctrine that blacks should not be allowed technical or scientific education. Strangely – poetic justice perhaps – it was apartheid that made the birth of Mangosuthu Technikon possible. Bantustans or homelands, established in the cause of the doctrine of ‘separate development’, had to be given relative autonomy to be believable.

Homeland boundaries enclosed a hotchpotch of largely undeveloped areas, situated as far as possible from major cities, which kept them where the government wanted them – out of sight and largely out of mind. There were a few exceptions, such as the greater sprawling township of Umlazi which is situated a stone’s throw from Durban. This township, like many others, was developed to provide labour to the City.

The Chief Minister of KwaZulu, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi strongly believed that under informed and under-trained people would always be dependent regardless of who was in government. He conceived the idea of a technical training college situated in a black residential area, yet as close as possible to the infrastructure facilities of a major city. Umlazi was the perfect site.

Such a development, though officially legal, would enjoy little support from the government given that it was meant to fund higher education for black students at a time when educating the black masses was not a priority for the apartheid government. The college has to be privately funded. There is a proverb that says, “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” The mighty oak is Mangosuthu Technikon. The acorn that gave birth to it was a dinner conversation.

Away from a formal conversation at Mr Harry Oppenheimer’s home over dinner with their partners and friends, Prince Buthelezi spoke earnestly to Mr Oppenheimer, then chairman of Anglo-American and DeBeers, and asked for help. He got it. In his usual cultured and courteous way, South Africa’s most famous industrialist said yes, and appointed Michael O’Dowd – chairman of the Anglo-American and DeBeers Chairman’s Fund, to oversee the project with a start-up capital of R5 million. This was equivalent to an investment of R50 million today.

Other leading industrialists contributed a further R2,5 million, and in 1979 the Mangosuthu Technikon opened its doors. It was a temporary prefabricated lecture room that welcomed the first student intake of only 15.

Construction work proceeded quickly. Labour was recruited locally in keeping with the declared intention that Mangosuthu Technikon be perceived as belonging to the people of Umlazi – theirs to look after and enjoy as an integral part of the community. The architects, engineers, researchers, and surveyors were all leaders in their fields of expertise. It is not surprising that the end result is a balance of grace, structural soundness, modern design, and excellent functionality.

The four decades of MUT’s existence are captured in the timelines of the University.

Infrastructure Development

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has been at the forefront of MUT’s infrastructural development. DHET approved the initial funding of Student Housing Phase 1 through the Infrastructure and Efficiency Grant on 12 March 2009. The original amount approved was R105m, with the Department contributing R49 million and MUT to contribute the balance (R56million) through a loan.  The first challenge at that time was securing the loan.  By the time construction commenced on 18 February 2014, the costs had escalated to R156million. There were many challenges with the construction of the new Student Housing Phase 1 and the construction was finally completed in August 2018.

With five blocks, Student Housing Phase 1 has the capacity to take 620 students.

Clean bill of health

The fact that MUT has had a clean bill of health for the 8th consecutive year is not anything to be taken lightly. It is a huge gain for the University after it had been put under administration in 2010.