History of St Augustine

In mid-nineties, at the time that the foundation of St Augustine Private Tertiary Institution was mooted, South Africa was on the brink of its first ever truly democratic elections. Anticipating vast economic, political, and social changes, a group of Catholic academics, clergy, and business people recognised the need for a South African Catholic university that could make a significant moral and academic contribution to the development of the country. Their discussions bore fruit in 1999 when St Augustine’s, South Africa’s only Catholic institution of higher education, welcomed its first postgraduate students. From the very beginning emphasis was placed on the education of ethical leaders for Africa through offering high quality degrees in the Humanities.

Even though St Augustine first opened its doors to students in 1999, the story begins earlier, in 1993, when Professor Emmanuel Ngara, then the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University circulated documents about the possibility of starting a Catholic university in South Africa. Dr Edith Raidt, a member of the Schoenstatt Sisters, hosted the first meeting of a thirteen member planning group to gather at the Schoensttat Family Centre in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, for its first meeting on 28 August 1993. Five months later on 29 January 1994, a symposium was held that gave impetus to the founding of what was envisioned as a Catholic University of Southern Africa. The report prepared by Prof Emmanual Nagara and Fr Buti Tlhagale, OMI, for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference about this meeting articulated three areas of special responsibility of the university: ‘to its students, to the Kingdom of God and the Church.’ There was a concern that the university have a regional character so that it could ‘facilitate contact and exchange of ideas and make a significant contribution to regional integration and co-operation; and to the development of higher education in the region’.

Prof Ngara and Fr Tlhagale listed the three motivating factors that led the group at the symposium to conceive the idea of a Catholic university:

  • Studies on higher education in Africa have shown that secular universities do not include issues of morality and character formation in the education they provide and this creates gaps in the training of future leaders and those who are destined to occupy positions of importance in society. The planners were critical of some of the developments that were happening in society. Educated Catholics are not sufficiently informed about matters that affect their conduct as Christians in the modern society, matters such as business ethics and Christian practice in the workplace. The participants in the symposium questioned the vitality of Catholic intellectual life in the Church in Southern Africa. The planning group desired that Catholic intellectuals play their part in helping the Church to deepen its commitment to the mission of evangelisation and renewal. They wanted to precipitate a qualitative change in Catholic intellectual life and Catholic intellectual education in general.

In January 1999 a formal application was submitted to the National Department of Education and on 5 July 1999 St Augustine Private Tertiary Institution was given conditional permission by the Department of Education to function as a private higher education institution and to offer the degree of Master of Philosophy in five different fields and the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. All those degrees were duly accredited by that Department.

The Private Tertiary Institution was opened on 13 July 1999 by the Deputy Minister of Education and started teaching its first students that same month. On 29 July 2004 the Private Tertiary Institution received full accreditation with the right to offer the degrees of Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy.

When the Private Tertiary Institution opened in July 1999 Prof Edith Raidt became its founding President and it was situated on rented property on the site of the old Union Observatory in Johannesburg with historic Sir Herbert Baker buildings. At the end of 2001, the Private Tertiary Institution was able to purchase its own campus in Victory Park, Johannesburg, in equally lovely settings with more space. The purchase was made possible by the generous donation of the Catholic Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart in Germany. From the beginning the Private Tertiary Institution reflected the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, while being open to people of all faiths or none.

While the Private Tertiary Institution started off in a small way with postgraduate degrees, one of its most important aims was to expand to a broader range of disciplines at undergraduate level. During 2003 a feasibility study was conducted to explore the viability of undergraduate programmes in the near future. In 2008 Fr Michael Van Heerden became the second President of the Private Tertiary Institution. Under his leadership the Private Tertiary Institution began to accept students for BCom and BTh degrees in 2009 and in 2010 BA degree programme was offered. In 2013 the Private Tertiary Institution made a decision to hold undergraduate degrees in abeyance and, for the time being, to refocus on postgraduate degrees and short courses. 2014 saw the beginning of the new BA (Hons) programme in Peace Studies, the only one of its kind in the African continent. 

While remaining committed to the academic excellence of its postgraduate offerings, in 2016 St Augustine relaunched its undergraduate degree programmes: a Liberal Arts BA degree and a BTh.


Presidents of St Augustine College:

Professor Edith H Raidt (1999-2008)   
BA(Hons), BEd, MA, PhD (Cape Town), 
DLitt honoris causa (Potchefstroom, Witwatersrand and UPE), DEd honoris causa (Natal)

Click here to find out more about Professor Edith H Raidt. 



Dr Michael van Heerden (2008-2013)   
BA (UNISA), BTh (Urbanianum), MTheol (UNISA), MPhil (KU Leuven), DPhil (KU Leuven)

Click here to find out more about Dr Michael Johann van Heerden.



Dr Madge Karecki (2013-2014)   
BA (Loyola), MA (St Bonaventure), DTh (UNISA)

Click here to find out more about Dr Madge Karecki.



Prof Nicholas Rowe (Acting President, 2014-2015)   
BSc Mech Eng (MIT), PhD (Boston College) (AP)

Click here to find out more about Prof Nicholas Rowe.



Prof Garth Abraham (2015-)   
BA (University of Natal), BA(Hons) [cum laude] (University of Natal), MA (University of Natal),
LLB (University of Cape Town), LLM (University of the Witwatersrand)

Click here to find out more about Prof Garth Abraham.