Reflecting on the past
At the end of this month of June 2019, we commemorate Prof Russel Botman who passed away five years ago. This constitutes a full term of office as far as academic positions go. It is therefore customary to do some reflection on the term. Some of the questions we ask ourselves are: What have we achieved? What remains to be done? What could we have done differently?
Starting up the fund
As the Russel Botman Bursary Fund, we have created a platform for gaining funding to grant deserving and talented students that would otherwise be economically excluded, a chance to be educated. He started on this path on 18 October 2013 by establishing the bursary fund on the celebration of his sixtieth birthday. In partnership with Stellenbosch University, he formally established the Russel Botman Bursary Fund by constituting the First Committee and drafting the regulations for applications.
RBBF goes online
Our greatest achievement was granting our first bursary and being able to repeat it every year since (as reflected on the RBBF website). We took the RBBF into a higher gear when we went online: the website and social media platforms were launched in 2016, on the fifth anniversary of the creation of the fund making it easy to use and find. Prof Botman made sure to firmly cement the vision of hope in university policy and we are therefore proud that the RBBF grants bursaries to those who would not otherwise also be granted bursaries by the university or other funders. To qualify for a RBBF bursary, applicants must demonstrate alignment to the vision and values of Prof Botman – qualifiers that are potentially not applicable to all other funds. We expect only the best from our recipients and are proud of their achievements thus far. We also expect of them to stay part of the RBBF community by becoming donors when they are of means, however, this is still something that remains to be cemented in the practices of our recipients.
What would we have done differently?
What would we have done differently? We would have worked much harder at fundraising, for one thing. Without funding, we cannot grant bursaries, we cannot grant opportunities to the youth. Prof Botman passed away during youth month, a fact that could not have been a greater driver for growing the RBBF.
Join those who have already taken up the challenge Prof Botman has put to us in 2013. Get involved. Donate today.
The recent publication of research done by Stellenbosch University in an international scientific journal in an article, Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in Colored South African women begs for the interrogation of the relationship between the RBBF and SU.
Apart from the very eloquent and academically sound criticism in the public space, it seemed as if SU was initially absent in response. Its first official response on 26 April in the form of a media statement was, however, very disappointing. These dehumanising and humiliating findings of a designated population group, particularly women, merely expressed concern about pain and anger the article has solicited. It does not own the pain and anger. It seems to be the pain and anger of “the other”.
The statement has no opinion on the article, the broader research project, and its leaders and even the ethics committee responsible.
After so much damage done to the reputation of SU, a follow-up apology was published on 30 April on the SU website. Although it seems like a long interval between the two, the outcome after discussions and various submissions and suggestions led to this second response. This unconditional and unreserved apology goes a long way to make all feel included in an SU opinion, not as “the other”. The request from the Rectorate for “a thorough investigation into all aspects of this study” is sorely appreciated. I sincerely hope that all does in fact mean all. I hope the why, who, what and how of the entire chain of this research publication is part of the all.
As an expression of the legacy of Russel Botman, the RBBF wishes to state that this Fund does not ever consider race or population grouping, under no circumstances. We only consider financially needy students who are academically deserving with evidence of proven community involvement and leadership, South African citizenship and exceptional perseverance and success achieved.
The RBBF Committee disassociates itself from any discriminatory stereotyping, including and especially in the name of research, at SU or elsewhere in the world.
Focused on the future
Being the theologian that Russel Botman was, it is not surprising that he was overtly future orientated and, in giving expression to this future, he personified hope in all his actions. In the book Russel Botman: A Tribute, both the late Dr Johan Botha and Prof Dirkie Smit attested to this.
Please allow me to start at the beginning. Prof Russel Botman, rector and vice chancellor of Stellenbosch University celebrated his 60th birthday on 18 October 2013. For his last birthday, Botman decided not to accept gifts. Instead he requested his guests donate to the newly established Russel Botman Bursary Fund. The office of alumni relations, under the leadership and management of Ms. Beverley Witten, set up the necessary processes to start, and she and her team were there to receive the first donations.