It is with a heavy heart that we share news that H. Russel Botman, rector and vice chancellor of Stellenbosch University in South Africa, passed away in his sleep on Friday, June 27, 2014.
Botman was the 2012–2013 recipient of Princeton Seminary’s Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life.
Born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1953, Botman received his secondary education in Kliptown, Soweto. He honed his leadership skills at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town (UWC), where he served as a member of the Students’ Representatives Council in 1976, the year of youth uprisings against apartheid. He became dean of the faculty of religion and theology at UWC in 1999, and was appointed professor in missiology, ecumenism and public theology at Stellenbosch University in 2000. He was installed as rector and vice chancellor of the university in 2007, and was reappointed for a second term in 2012.
An ordained minister of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, Botman was president of the South African Council of Churches from 2003 to 2007. He served as research consultant to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches from 2001 to 2004, and participated in its project—Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth. He is a former executive chair of the Ecumenical Foundation of Southern Africa, and was the founding director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology.
As a theologian, he’s been published widely on topics addressing human rights, reconciliation, human dignity, the Belhar Confession and social justice.
Though not himself the author of the Belhar Confession, Botman was directly involved in the events that led up to the Confession, which identified racism as a sin. The Confession has now been adopted by many churches worldwide as part of their confessional standard.
He was also a proponent of the idea that science should drive Africa’s development, and was the inspiration behind Stellenbosch University’s HOPE Project, a science-for-society initiative through which the institution is working to eradicate poverty, promote human dignity and health, entrench democracy and human rights, strengthen peace and security, and balance a sustainable environment with a competitive industry.
He served on the editorial board of Theology Today, and was a research fellow with the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, and a Campbell Scholar at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
He received a special award for standing for justice and humanity from the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and an honorary membership in the United Nations Association of South Africa in recognition of his contributions to South African society and the advancement of the Millennium Development Goals.
At the time of his death, he served as vice president of the Association of African Universities, chair of the Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 Board, and as director of Higher Education South Africa and of Media24.
He is survived by his wife, Beryl, and their four children, Hayman, Ilse, Roxanne, and Lizelle.
Thank you to President Emeritus Iain Torrance for his assistance with this notice.