20 years of Africa University

South Carolina plays role in changing the face of a continent

By Jessica Connor and the Rev. Kathy James

It began as a dream some said would never come to fruition.

Now, on the eve of its 20th birthday, Africa University serves as the foundation of United Methodist higher education on the continent of Africa. And it is thanks in part to the significant role South Carolina United Methodists have played in the university's development.

Not only did a Bennettsville couple make the very first gift to Africa University, but a core group of other committed education advocates helped guide the school along its way, constructing the Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey Faculty of Theology building and endowing four full scholarships in perpetuity for theology students there. It was people like former S.C. Bishop Joseph B. Bethea, then-Greenville pastor Bishop Jack Meadors, retired Spartanburg District Superintendent Dr. Ted Walter, South Carolina s Dr. Carolyn Briscoe and Dr. Joe Heyward, former S.C. Bishop McCleskey and many more who made the school possible, said Africa University Associate Vice Chancellor Jim Salley, a native South Carolinian.

South Carolina is in Africa University s DNA, said Salley, noting that without the support and strong advocacy role the people of this state have played, the school would not be what it is today.

Twenty years after its official opening in March 1992, Africa University is poised for a successful future. With 1,634 students from 24 countries, the university houses six schools: theology, education, health sciences, management and administration, arts and sciences, and agriculture and natural resources. Located in Mutare, Zimbabwe, the gender ratio is about 50-50, Salley said “ one of the things they are most proud of.

Walking on the Africa University campus you would think you were on the campus of anyplace else in the world, Salley said. It s the most rewarding thing I ve ever done. It is God at work, and I ve seen the dream become a reality.

˜Exciting beginnings

In 1988, General Conference approved the Africa Initiative, which provided $10 million in apportionment funding that quadrennium with the expectation that an additional $10 million would be raised through the World Service Special Gifts.

Briscoe was at General Conference when that was approved and remembers the feeling on the floor.

It was just so exciting to think our church could take such a step, said Briscoe, a retired professor who headed the education department at Clemson University. Here we just take for granted that persons who want to go on to higher education can do so, and that has not been done on the continent.

Salley, an elected member of the General Board of Global Ministries from 1984-1992 and served on the founding board of directors representing the GBGM. He was on the original site selection committee of the university and later joined the staff in 1992. Salley said the first gift to start the university was given in April 1991 by Jonas and the late Odette Kennedy of Bennettsville. The Kennedy family, along with many other strong benefactors, has continued to support the university over the past 20 years.

I am very proud, the 96-year-old Jonas Kennedy said of where the university is today. It s a wonderful opportunity for people. It helps not only Zimbabwe but all of Africa.

The couple s commitment to the university is so strong that, when Kennedy asked what his late wife wanted for her 74th birthday, she said she wanted a female dormitory built for students. Kennedy happily complied.

Africa University has been apportioned the same amount each quadrennium since its start and will ask for the same amount at the 2012 General Conference. That apportionment amounts to 29 cents per member per year.

A world-class institution for leadership development

Now, as it prepares to mark its platinum anniversary, Africa University has graduated more than 4,000 students since its start. The children of some of these first graduates are now enrolled as students.

Today, it offers the only master s degree in intellectual property in Africa, as well as master s degrees in public sector management and nonprofit management.

From its early days of classes held in converted farm structures to its current sprawling campus of red brick buildings nestled in the Nyagambu River Valley, the school is driven by a goal to become a world-class university for leadership development in Africa, living out its slogan, Learning here, staying here, leading here.

I ve seen the university built from an empty field to now 29 buildings with another one under construction, all modern and complete. I ve seen the institution grow from 40 students to more than 4,000 graduates all over the continent of Africa, Salley said. We call Africa University the school of dreams.

To think our conference could have a role in making that possible ¦ is just remarkable, Briscoe said, citing a sense of pride that South Carolina has helped make Africa University a reality. What-ever it takes to do it, we must keep it going. I think education is certainly the key to growth and even peace on the continent of Africa.

Africa University is planning a yearlong 20th birthday celebration with special events beginning in February 2012 and leading up to a major finale in March 2013. These include the African Clergywomen s Consultation, Feb. 1-4; the Desert Southwest Conference visit for the dedication of the Joel Huffman Chair of Health Sciences, Feb. 20-25; and the first-ever World Evangelism Seminar in Africa, Dec. 1-8.

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