The University of the Cape of Good Hope (UCGH) is established in 1873. The UCGH was incorporated into Unisa, and became the first examining university in 1918, in terms of education minister FS Malan’s university legislation. A ‘federal’ system linked other university colleges to Unisa, which was responsible for examinations nationally. Registrar William Thomson and four assistants established a tiny presence in downtown Pretoria. In 1919, Unisa issued 138 degrees to six colleges for candidates undergoing examination. The affiliated university colleges broke away between 1921-1952 to become the independent universities of the Witwatersrand, Pretoria, Natal, the Free State, Rhodes and Potchefstroom.
Potchefstroom professor AJH van der Walt was hired in 1944 to look into correspondence education. He launched the Division of External Studies in 1946 amidst great controversy. Between 1947-1973 it operated from more than 10 buildings in Pretoria. The University of South Africa Act of 1959 gave Unisa the say over institutions that provided tuition to students that sat for Unisa examinations. Unisa shut down most correspondence colleges. In 1959 Unisa became the world’s first correspondence university, using study guides, cassette tapes and limited face-to-face tuition. Finally, fundraising began for the dramatic Muckleneuk Hill campus (pictured) in the mid-1960s. It was finally completed in a heroic Modernist style in the late 1980s.