Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Courage to Hope: A Tribute to Russel Botman

A tribute to the legacy of the late Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, who passed away in his sleep at the age of 61 last Friday. 
 by Brandon Janse Van Vuuren

Botman was born in Bloemfontein on October 18 1953. In apartheid South Africa, he took part in various human right movements and is described as being one of our nation’s core freedom fighters.

Stellenbosch municipal spokesperson Vernon Bowers, in a statement to the press, said: "The reality and impact of Botman's sudden passing has left the town grappling with the great loss it has experienced over the weekend"

One constant in his life has always been fighting for a freer and better South Africa."He [Botman] 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" says Stellenbosch University council chairperson George Steyn. His goal was to make tertiary level education accessible to all. According to Steyn, he often stated that the "child of the farm owner and the child of the farm worker should have an equal opportunity to become a Matie [Stellenbosch Student]."

He became a Minister of Religion in Wynberg in 1982, during an era when he was viewed as a second-class citizen. He was named the first black Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stellenbosch, and in this capacity he accomplished much, including initiating the HOPE Project.

According to Johann Rupert, Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, "[t]he HOPE Project was his passion. It aimed to bring hope to communities through community-oriented research projects and I regard this as his greatest legacy."

The HOPE Project facilitated the undertaking of world-class research on local, regional and Africa-wide challenges in state-of-the-art facilities with the best expertise available, while providing the best opportunities for learning and the growth of a new generation of thought-leaders. This enabled the University to support the international development agenda by focusing some of its key academic and research programs on these goals. These programs were initiated to eradicate poverty and related conditions, promote human dignity and health, promote democracy and human rights, promote peace and security and to promote a sustainable environment and competitive industry.

He is survived by his wife and four children. The country mourns the passing of a phenomenal man and a great leader, but his legacy endures, and can inspire others to strive for a life marked by the courage to hope, as well as to fight for a freer and better South Africa.