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29 January 2019
Five Firsts For UWC: Milestones Along The Way From Bush College To Top University

(Published - 29 January 2019)

Life is full of firsts – your first day on Earth, first day of school, first kiss, first job, first child - but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Universities have firsts as well – particularly a university that grew from a “Bush college” into one of the continent’s best and most celebrated research institutions.

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) first opened its doors in 1960, offering limited training to Coloured students for lower positions in schools, the civil service and other institutions - exclusively in Afrikaans. In that first year, the teaching staff numbered only 17 – and the student body was only 166 strong.

Since then, UWC has come a long way - and with that in mind, here are a few firsts from the University of the Western Cape.

1975: UWC gets its first black Rector and Vice-Chancellor, the late, great Professor Richard E van der Ross. It’s the beginning of a change in direction for the University - one that will see it become both the intellectual home of the left (and an opponent of apartheid in both knowledge and action) and one of the continent’s top research institutions, changing lives in more ways than one.

1993: UWC’s anti-apartheid media project, Bush Radio, first hits the airwaves as a pirate radio station – and shortly thereafter becomes South Africa’s first licensed community radio station. The project actually began in the late 1980s by distributing political and cultural radio programming via cassette tape (since they lacked a license to broadcast on a conventional radio platform).

2008: UWC is awarded its first Chair under the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), a flagship project of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation. The University will go on to hold 18 of them by 2019, providing leadership in fields as diverse as Astrophysics, Health Systems Governance and Visual History.

2011: UWC is one of the founding members of the Varsity Shield rugby tournament, along with CUT, Wits, UFH and UKZN. Seven years later, UWC would become the first historically disadvantaged institution to win promotion to the top-tier Varsity Cup tournament after winning the Shield in a non-promotional year, winning the promotional game, and finishing the Shield on top yet again in 2018.

2014: For the first (but not the last) time, UWC graduates over 100 PhDs and over 4,000 students in total. That record has been upheld (and, in fact, broken) every year since, with the University’s 2018 graduation ceremonies seeing 114 PhDs and over 5,000 graduates from a variety of backgrounds and in a variety of fields leaving UWC to make their mark in the world.

Know of any other UWC firsts you’d like to share? Why not let us know at And if you want to know about the times UWC itself was first with new technologies, teaching techniques, and more, why not check out this list of amazing UWC firsts?