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Stellenbosch University mourns death of Russel Botman

Rector and Vice-Chancellor passed away in his sleep at his home on Friday night

SU mourns death of Rector

28/06/2014

Prof Hayman Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University passed away in his sleep at his home in Stellenbosch last night.

Mr George Steyn, Chairperson of the University Council expressed his sincere condolences with Prof Botman's wife, Beryl, his children, family and the University's staff and students. "Russel was a lovely and beloved person. I have great respect for his integrity and his leadership, among others for the manner in which he brought the then Faculty of Theology at the University of the Western Cape over to Stellenbosch University. He was stead fast in his convictions and his principles, and lived accordingly. Over the past few years Stellenbosch University benefited from his visionary leadership which portrayed his philosophy that SU's excellent research and teaching should make a difference in society.

"In our discussions Russel often mentioned that the 'child of the farm owner and the child of the farm worker should have an equal opportunity to become a Matie'. He often asked me whether Stellenbosch University was doing enough to ensure that one day his and my grandchildren would be able to study here in Afrikaans.

"On behalf of the broad University community I would like to thank Beryl and express our gratitude for her loving and selfless support to Russel."

Dr Johann Rupert, Chancellor of the University, described Prof Botman as a person with impeccable integrity who always sacrificed himself for other people. "He lived his deep faith daily," he said.

"Just last week, the two of us had lunch, and we discussed a broad range of topics, including language issues, student safety and the general state of South Africa.

"Unfair criticism from various quarters clearly hurt him deeply. But Russel never complained.

"On behalf of my family I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Beryl and the children. Stellenbosch University and South Africa has lost a person of great worth. We are going to miss him tremendously."

Prof Botman was scheduled to go abroad in the coming week and had appointed Prof Leopoldt van Huyssteen, the Chief Operating Officer of Stellenbosch University as the acting rector. Prof Botman was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in July 2014. Prof Van Huyssteen will serve as acting rector until the Executive Committee of Council meets in July.

Prof Botman is survived by his wife, Beryl, and four children: Hayman, Ilse, Roxanne and Lizelle. Funeral arrangements have not been finalised.

Bio of Prof H Russel Botman

Professor Hayman Russel Botman was Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU). First appointed in 2007, he was reappointed for a second 5-year term in 2012.

At the time of his death, he was also Senior Vice-President of the Association of African Universities, Chairperson of the World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 Board and a Director of Higher Education South Africa and of Media24.

Born in Bloemfontein on 18 October 1953, he attended the Dr Blok School in Heatherdale at primary level and matriculated from Kliptown Senior Secondary School in Johannesburg. He graduated from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), with the degrees BA (1978), BTh (1979), BTh Licentiate (1981), MTh cum laude (1984) and DTh (1994).

As Public Relations Officer of UWC's Student Representative Council in 1976, the year of the Soweto uprising, he led his fellow students in human rights protests against apartheid laws.

Ordained in 1982, he served as minister of religion of the Wynberg congregation of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church from 1982 to 1993. He played a key role in its unification with the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa and the Reformed Church in Africa to form the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa (URCSA), and remained a staunch proponent of church unity within the Dutch Reformed Church Family to the end.

He joined UWC in 1994 as a Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology, and was promoted to Associate Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Religion and Theology in 1999. In 2000, he joined SU as Professor in Missiology, Ecumenism and Public Theology. He had brought 38 students from UWC across to SU because Theology was going to be scaled down at UWC due to university rationalisation.

At SU, he became Vice-Rector: Teaching in 2002, and served in that position until his historic appointment as the institution's first black Rector and Vice-Chancellor in 2007. He also served as President of the South African Council of Churches from 2003 to 2007, and had published widely on human rights, reconciliation, human dignity and social justice.

The title of his inauguration address at SU in April 2007 was "A multicultural university with a pedagogy of hope in Africa", and he said that he would devote his time in office to the practical realisation of SU's stated commitment to redress and development. He launched the University's HOPE Project in 2010, a ground-breaking science-for-society initiative. In 2013, he guided the University to the adoption of its new Vision 2030, which is to become more inclusive, innovative and future-focused.

In March 2014, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hope College in Michigan for leadership in higher education and the Reformed church to promote a more just society for all South Africans, and in April 2013 he received Princeton Theological Seminary's Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Theology and Public Life. He had received honorary membership of the United Nations Association of South Africa for advancing the Millennium Development Goals. And he was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in July 2014.

Prof Botman is survived by his wife, Beryl, and four children: Hayman, Ilse, Roxanne and Lizelle.

Statement issued by Stellenbosch University, June 28 2014

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