Magazine article The Christian Century

Better Late Than Never: African University Opens

Magazine article The Christian Century

Better Late Than Never: African University Opens

Article excerpt

ON THE WEEKEND before the historic multiracial election in South Africa, five hours away by ground transportation in Mutare, Zimbabwe, another landmark event took place. On April 23 Africa University, sponsored by the United Methodist Church, was formally opened. Zimbabwe President Robert G. Mugabe was the major speaker at the opening ceremonies, and he quoted a statement by the Association of African Universities declaring that the purpose of university education is "to evolve institutions that are not only built, owned and sited in Africa, but are of Africa, and intelligently dedicated to her ideals and aspirations." The president received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Vice-Chancellor John Durewa, thus becoming the university's first graduate.

The idea for Africa University goes back to 1898 when Methodist Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell had a vision of hundreds of African young people on their way to school. That vision became a reality through the establishment of Old Mutare Mission in rural Rhodesia and the development of the Hartzell School, a primary school that today has some 900 students.

In 1984 two African bishops, Arthur F. Kulah of Liberia and Emilio J. M. de Carvalho of Angola, challenged the United Methodist Board of Higher Education to support the establishment of a university in Africa. The board's general secretary at the time, Thomas Trotter, and his successor, Roger Irensen, with the further support of board president Bishop F. Herbert Skeete and other members of the Council of Bishops, demonstrated that even within a structure as complex as the United Methodist Church it is possible to establish a university.

Celebrating the dedication of Africa University in his Sunday morning sermon, Kulah took the theme "better late than never." He reminded the gathering that a denomination that had established institutions of higher education in many other parts of the world had finally done so on the African continent. Supporting the Nashville-based Board of Higher Education was the New York-based Board of Global Ministries, which shared its considerable international experience and expertise as the denomination's mission agency.

Africa has become visible in new ways today. While South Africa celebrated its first multiracial elections and Zimbabwe opened Africa University, 300 African church leaders were meeting in Rome in a month-long synod of bishops to plan their strategy for the continent where Roman Catholics are experiencing their most spectacular growth. …

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