Shortly after the formal establishment of the Catholic Hierarchy in South Africa in 1951, the ambition was first mooted to found a Catholic university in the country. In 1993 a discussion group began seriously to consider the matter. In 1994, Professor Emmanuel NGARA, leader of the group, and, then, Fr Buti TLHAGALE OMI, of the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), issued a report supporting the establishment of a Catholic university. The motivation was three-fold: to provide values-based education with a strong ethical foundation; to inform the conduct of Catholics and fellow Christians in modern society; to encourage Catholic intellectuals to play their part in helping the Church to deepen its commitments to the mission of evangelisation and renewal.
On 18 February 1997, the then Bishop of Johannesburg, the Rt Rev Reginald ORSMOND, created ‘The Catholic University of Southern Africa Trust’ (later renamed the ‘St Augustine College of South Africa Trust’) to guide the process. In November 1997, a Section 21 Company was registered as a provider of higher education within the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (Company Registration No 1997/020522/08). The Company was granted both ‘Not-for-Profit’ and ‘Public Benefit’ status (NPO: 043-665; PBO 130001525).
The name chosen for the proposed institution was ‘St Augustine’ – a conscious link to the African context: St Augustine of Hippo being one of the earliest and greatest Christian scholars produced by the continent.
In January 1999 – less than two years after the promulgation of a new Higher Education Act allowing for the establishment of private higher education institutions – formal application was made to the national Department of Education to establish St Augustine; on 5 July, conditional permission was granted and on 13 July 1999, St Augustine was officially opened by the Deputy Minister of Education. In 2000, St Augustine was officially recognised as a ‘Private Tertiary Academic Institution’ (Certificate No 2000/HE08/002). All of its qualifications are registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), and are accredited by the Council on Higher Education (CHE).
Initially, St Augustine functioned in terms of a Memorandum of Incorporation that accords with the Companies Act of South Africa, the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and the 1990 Apostolic Constitution of St Pope John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. In August 2008, the SACBC decreed the canonical recognition of St Augustine as a Catholic ‘university’ and granted the institution its governing Statutes. In the same year, St Augustine was recognised by the Congregation for Catholic Education, in the Vatican, as a Catholic ‘university’.
In July 1999, teaching of its first students commenced in rented property on the site of the old Union Observatory in Johannesburg. At the end of 2001, following a generous generous donation of the Catholic Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart in Germany and with the support of the SACBC, St Augustine purchased the Holy Family Centre at 53 Ley Road in Victory Park, Johannesburg, and moved to its current campus at the end of January 2002.
St Augustine’s founding President was Prof Dr Sr Edith RAIDT, a Schoenstatt religious sister and renowned expert in the history of the Afrikaans language. Professor RAIDT (1999 – 2008) was succeeded by Dr Fr Michael van HEERDEN (2008 – 2013), a Catholic priest, and, Dr Sr Madge KARECKI (2013-2014), an American religious sister and expert in missiology. After an interim period in which Prof Nicholas ROWE (2014 – 2015) acted as President, the current president, Professor Garth ABRAHAM, a South African international law scholar, was appointed in August 2015.
Since its foundation, St Augustine’s degree offerings have increased significantly. Original accreditation for doctoral, masters, and political leadership programmes was received In July 2004. In 2006 the BEd (Hons) was added; in April 2008, the Bachelor of Commerce (PPE) and Bachelor of Theology degrees were accredited; in May 2009, the Bachelor of Arts degree was accredited. The first undergraduate Bachelor degrees were conferred at the 2012 graduation. Also in 2012, Honours degrees in Theology and Peace Studies were offered. Most recently, an Honours degree in Philosophy (2015) and a Higher Certificate in Biblical Studies were accredited.