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University of Pretoria Historical Overview

Foundation Years: 1889 – 1929

Historic overview

-1889 ZAR proposal to establish a university

-1899 Anglo Boer War

-1902 Peace of Vereeniging

-1910 Union of South Africa

-1914 First World War

-1929 Great Depression

The Pretoria branch of the Transvaal University College (TUC) was the forerunner of the University of Pretoria. It commenced its activities in 1908 with a staff of four professors and three lecturers. Thirty-two students enrolled for courses at the first campus, Kya Rosa, a house in the centre of the Pretoria. The University of Pretoria became a fully fledged university in 1930. The name Tuks, for the University of Pretoria, derives from the acronym for the College, namely TUC.

In the years preceding the South African War (1899-1902) there was much discussion in the Volksraad of the ZAR regarding the establishment of a university. These plans were interrupted by the outbreak of the war. In 1902 the Normal College for the training of teachers was established in Pretoria and in 1904 the Transvaal Technical Institute opened in Johannesburg with an emphasis on mining education. Classes were also offered by the institute in Pretoria.

 In 1906 the institute adopted a new name – the Transvaal University College (TUC) and in 1908 university classes began in Pretoria in the Arts and Sciences as part of the TUC with its seat in Johannesburg. The first four professors were Prof H. Th. Reinink (Dutch), J. Purves (Scottish), A.C. Paterson (Scottish) and D.F. du Toit Malherbe (South African). On 10 February 1908 32 students began with classes in Kya Rosa, a house in Skinner Street and on 4 March 1908 the Transvaal University College (TUC) became known officially as the Pretoria Centre of the Transvaal University College. Kya Lami in Schoeman Street was used as a men’s residence for students and lecturers.

On 17 May 1910 the TUC in Pretoria became an independent institution apart from the Johannesburg institute, which became known as the South African School of Mines and Technology. The TUC acquired its own campus in the east of Pretoria. The cornerstone of the Old Arts Building was laid by Governor General Gladstone on 3 August 1910 and in September 1911 the TUC moved into the Old Arts and the Old Chemistry buildings. There were 7 professors, 6 lecturers and 62 students.

In 1914 the College men’s residence was built. 1917 saw the establishment of the Faculties of Agriculture and Theology, 1918 the establishment of the Faculty of Law and in 1919 the Faculties of Arts; Natural Sciences; Trade and Public Administration and Veterinary Science were established.

In 1920 the TUC acquired the Experimental farm and in 1926 the first official Ladies Residence, die Fant (today Vergeet-my-nie) was constructed.

Many student activities originated in the founding years. The first Student Council was founded in 1909.

Rag started in the early 1920s and the first Rag Queen was crowned in 1929.

The welcoming of the first years (initiation) also started in this time and took place on Church Square, in full view of curious onlookers.

With sport facilities on the main campus (where the Musaion and Aula are today), students could partake in various kinds of sport, such as rugby, netball, hockey and tennis.


Establishment Years 1929 - 1948

Historic overview

-1929 Great Depression

-1930s Boom of Afrikaner cultural organisations

-1934 Formation of the United Party and Purified National Party

-1938 Great Trek Centenary

-1939 Outbreak of World War II

-1948 National Party comes to power

This period is characterized by the TUC receiving university status & Afrikaans becoming the official medium of instruction.
In terms of the Private Act on the University of Pretoria (Act no 13 of 1930) the TUC became the independent University of Pretoria and 10 October 1930 was the official date for the establishment of the University of Pretoria.
Until the early 1930s, the TUC was the only fully bilingual university in South Africa. By 1931, however, 65 % of students were Afrikaans speaking, but only 32% of classes were conducted in Afrikaans. To address this imbalance, the University Council decided in 1932 that Afrikaans would be the only medium of instruction. The University became popularly known as the “Voortekker Universiteit”.
With the establishment of the Medical Faculty in 1943, there were 7 faculties at the University of Pretoria. This led to an increase in student numbers and new facilities such as the Club Hall and the Administration Building had to be constructed.
Thanks to the generous donation of Dr Hans Merensky, the University could boast a modern academic library in 1939.
Student life flourished with events such as Spring Day being added to the university calendar.
Intervarsity became a fixture on the university calendar and the frequent raids on the Tuks mascot “Oom Gert” took the battle beyond the sports field.
The number of cultural and academic student societies continued to increase and many student publications were established in these years, such as Trek in 1931, the first Rag Mag in 1936 and the ever popular student newspaper, Die Perdeby in 1939.

Expansion Years 1948 - 1982

Historic Overview

-1948 National Party elected

-1950s Promulgation of Apartheid legislation

-1960 Sharpeville massacre

-1961 Republic of South Africa

-1966 H.F. Verwoerd assassinated

-1976 Soweto riots

-1982 SANSO reports – restructuring of higher education

This period is characterized by the physical growth and expansion of the University of Pretoria. Between 1948 and 1982 student numbers doubled. This increase in student numbers necessitated the physical expansion of the campus and new buildings appeared in rapid succession and the campus grew eastward.

- New Arts Building 1951

- The Aula 1958

- Heavy Machinery Laboratory 1959

- Architecture Building 1960

- Extra-mural Building, Proes Street 1960

- Music Complex, Musaion &Amphitheatre 1960-1964

- Basic Medical Sciences (BMW) 1967

- Administration Building 1968

- Agriculture Building 1972

- Engineering Tower 1975

- New Merensky Library 1976

- Human Sciences Building 1977

- Education-Law Building 1981

This growth was accompanied by the increase and modernisation of academic and support facilities

- Electron Microscope 1971

- Oral Hygiene Diploma 1972

- Department of Audio-Visual Services 1976

- Upgrade of the Computer Mainframe 1976

With the growing number of students, student activities flourished with events such as Rag, Intervarsity and Spring Day being strongly supported.
Parades through the streets of Pretoria, with drum majorettes and beauty queens, added an element of fun and colour to city life.  

 Transformation Years 1982 - 2008

Historic Overview


-1983 Referendum on new constitution

-1990 ANC unbanned & Nelson Mandela released

-1991 Population Registration Act & Group Areas Act repealed

-1994 First democratic elections

-1999 Thabo Mbeki President & African Renaissance

- Transformation of tertiary education

-2004 Celebration of ten years of democracy

-2008 UP Centenary Celebrations

The main characteristic of this era was the transformation of UP into a bilingual and multiracial institution. The first signs of transformation appeared with the relatively smooth introduction of students of all races to the University and in 1989 the University was declared officially “open” for all races.
  New campuses and distance education also transformed the University and opened doors to a larger and more diverse student body, such as the opening of the Witbank Campus in 1989 and a campus at Hammanskraal in 1994.
In 1994 a new language policy was adopted, returning to the original bilingual status.  
In 1993 the ground breaking policy document Framework for Strategic Planning was introduced, with the aim to position the University in a changing South Africa. The Broad Transformation Forum (1995) included both students & staff in the process of restructuring UP into an internationally competitive and locally relevant institution.
  An innovation corridor was created with the signing of the Southern Education Research Alliance with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1999 and in 2004 the Innovation Hub was completed, to answer to the needs of the emerging innovation generation at UP.

In 1999 saw the amalgamation of the only two veterinary science faculties in the country, those of the University of Pretoria and Medunsa. In 2000 the Teachers Training College Pretoria (Groenkloof) was incorporated into the University and a specialised business school, the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) was opened in Johannesburg in 2000.  In 2004 the Mamelodi campus of Vista University merged with UP.
During this time more specialised academic and student facilities were constructed, such as:

- Sport Centre 1983

- Carl & Emily Fuchs Institute for Microelectronics (CEFIM) 1984

- Arnold Theiler Building at Onderstepoort 1987

  - Persequor Technopark 1990

- Economic and Management Sciences 1991

- Tuksdorp 1993

- The Student Centre 1995

- Client Services Centre (CSC) 2002

- High Performance Centre 2002

  - Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) 2004

- New Law Building 2004

 In 2007 the university adopted Sepedi as the third language of communication.

 The University of Pretoria celebrated its centenary in 2008, looking back over 100 years in the service of knowledge.  
   To accommodate the increasing number of students, a new lecture complex, the Centenary Building, was officially opened in 2009.  The complex comprises of six lecture halls with 300 seats each.