The University of the North was established in 1959 under the apartheid regime's policy of separate ethnically-based institutions of higher learning policy. The university was sited at Turfloop farm about 40 km east of Pietersburg. The town that grew around the university was named Sovenga, (Sotho, Venda, Tsonga) for the three ethnic groups that were supposed to study there. In reality, most inhabitants refer to the town as Mankweng, after one of the chiefs of the area. Under later apartheid, UNIN served as a "model" university where dignitaries were brought to show the "viability" of the separate facilities. As such, it received heavy government subsidies, but the real problem was that the students that the university supposedly served were so under-resourced in their standard education that the quality of instruction was placed under incredible demands.
The university was a center of resistance to apartheid in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s with the SADF occupying the grounds often during those years. After the end of apartheid, the university struggled through various re-organization and rationalization schemes, yet always managed to survive. Enrollment fluctuated wildly in the years after liberation and while some faculty did not transition very easily, others were able to seize upon the new opportunities.
The University of Limpopo is the result of a merger between the former Medical University of Southern Africa and the University of the North, which merger occurred on 1 January 2005.
The Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA) was established in 1976 to provide tertiary education and training facilities to the educationally disadvantaged in the fields of Medicine, Allied Health and Nursing Sciences, and Dentistry intended to meet the health needs of the country..
The Campus is situated to the north-west of Pretoria. Its grounds extend over some 350 ha adjoining the Ga-Rankuwa Township and are easily accessible by roads and rail. Regular bus and taxi services operate between Pretoria and Dr George Mukhari Hospital as well as between Mabopane and Medunsa.
The extension of University Education Act of 1959 made provision for the establishment of racially exclusive universities for black South Africans. Under the provisions of the Act, the University College of the North was established about thirty kilometres from the Limpopo Province town of Polokwane on 1 August 1959. The College was placed under the academic trusteeship of the University of South Africa. This formative relationship was maintained until the South African Parliament promulgated the University of the North Act (Act No. 47 of 1969) thus bringing to an end the College status as of 1 January 1970.
The University is in the foothills of the Hwiti (Wolkberg range) in Mankweng, midway between Polokwane and Magoebaskloof.