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First woman to graduate in an SA varsity in 1928

Hewu born Getrude Ntlabathi is the first woman to have graduated from a South African university.

Ntlabathi went on to teach Rholihlahla Nelson Mandela at Clarkebury High School.

Born in 1901 near Queenstown, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare in Alice.


In 1918 aged 17, she was one of the first women to qualify for entry to study a matric at the South African Native College (SANC), which later became Fort Hare University.

After graduating in 1928, she taught at numerous famous schools around the country.

It is at Clarkebury in the 1930s that she taught Mandela. In Mandela’s autobiography, he refers to her as one of his best teachers.


Ntlabathi became a prominent voice for the struggle of women’s access to further education.

In 1943 she wrote a letter to the Rector of Fort Hare, challenging their postgraduate policy.

“Why does Fort Hare give scholarships only to men to pursue postgraduate studies overseas or elsewhere? … Why you Sir knowing my avidity for knowledge [and] learning have passed me by when golden opportunities are offered to Fort Hare graduates? I am not satisfied with the Bachelor of Arts Degree, I never was…”

In 2017, she received the Order of the Baobab in Silver from the office of the President.




Getrude Ntlabathi, the first woman graduate in an SA varsity and who went on to teach Nelson Mandela.

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