Nelson Mandela was an Alumni of the only all-black university of South Africa
Mainstream South African Universities, except under the most unique circumstances, did not accept non-white enrolment, and this was certainly the case when a young Nelson Mandela began to consider his higher education. South Africa, however, was home to the only black university in any of the British colonies of Africa, which, bearing in mind South Africa’s troubled race history, is rather a unique fact.
Mandela entered Fort Hare University in 1839, and began his BA course with a view later to studying law. Fort Hare was founded in 1916 as an offshoot of the Lovedale Missionary Institute, an establishment founded in the Eastern Cape by the Glasgow Missionary Society. It began life as an associate native college attached to the University of South Africa, intended to provide world-class tertiary education for young blacks from all across southern Africa. It is probably worth bearing in mind that in 1916, there were not that many educated young blacks to be found in the region, and it was usually only the most gifted who found their way eventually to Fort Hare.
By the time Mandela enrolled, things were rather different. Young blacks, realizing that violent revolution was hopeless, at least in the near term, placed their faith in education as a means of meeting the white man on equal terms on the modern political battlefield. There certainly were numerous young men studying at Fort Hare at that time who would go on to achieve political power in a later generation, Robert Mugabe probably key among them, but also others such as Desmond Tutu, Oliver Tambo and Julius Nyerere.
Interestingly, however, Mandela was not particularly political while at Fort Hare. He did not join the anti-imperial movement, and was a supporter of the British war effort. These were early days, however, and while under the British Empire, South Africa enjoyed a somewhat more open and inclusive system that would be the case after WWII. Mandela concerned himself with Bible classes, ballroom dancing and boxing.