18.10.1953 – 28.06.2014

Biography of Professor Hayman Russel Botman

Early Life and Career

Russel with mandela


Born to Karel and Mavis Botman in Heatherdale (later Heidedal), Bloemfontein, on 18 October 1953, Hayman Russel Botman attended the Dr Blok School locally and later matriculated from Kliptown Senior Secondary School in Johannesburg. 

He graduated from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) having obtained the degrees BA, B.Th., B.Th. Licentiate, MTh (cum laude) and D.Th. As a member of UWC’s student representative council in 1976, the year of the Soweto uprising, he led his fellow students in protesting apartheid.

Family and Personal Life

Botman came to Cape Town to study at UWC, but he quickly found his place in the city and never left. He married Lizzie Abrahams in 1979 and had, shortly after, two children were born: Hayman and Lizelle. While completing his studies, Botman also worked in the congregation of the then Dutch Reformed Mission Church in Bishop Lavis. After qualifying, he became the minister at the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in Wynberg. Sadly, he became a widower in 1987 when Lizzie passed away suddenly.

 In 1989, Russel found happiness again when he married Beryl van der Scholtz. Beryl and her daughter, Ilse, moved from their home in Grassy Park to live with Botman at the manse in Mission Road in Wynberg. Later, they all moved together to Mortimer Road, also in Wynberg, where Roxanne was born to Russel and Beryl. From there, the family moved to Belhar, close to UWC, where Russel later worked. They also lived in Gordon’s Bay and later Stellenbosch where only Roxanne resided with her parents.

Russel dancing
russel bot with family

Theological Career

Botman was a former executive chairperson of the Ecumenical Foundation of Southern Africa and founder of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology. Ordained in 1982 in the then Dutch Reformed Mission Church, he served as minister of the Wynberg congregation from 1982 to 1993.

He played a key role in founding the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) and, to the end, remained a staunch proponent of church unity within the Dutch Reformed Church family.

From 2003 to 2007 he also served as President of the South African Council of Churches.

Academic Career

Russel insuit

Academic Career

Botman 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 was appointed professor in missiology, ecumenism and public theology at Stellenbosch University (SU) and was pivotal in the establishment of URCSA’s theological training at SU.

Throughout his career, Botman published widely on human rights, reconciliation, human dignity, social justice and the Belhar Confession. The title of his installation address at SU in April 2007 was, “A multicultural university with a pedagogy of hope in Africa”, and he devoted his time in office to the realisation of SU’s stated commitment to redress and to development.

In 2013, he guided SU to the adoption of its new Vision 2030: to become more inclusive, innovative and future-focused, an institution that nurtures thought leaders.

In April 2013 he received Princeton Theological Seminary’s Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Theology and Public Life, and in March 2014 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hope College in Michigan for leadership in higher education and the Reformed Church.

He also received honorary membership of the United Nations Association of South Africa for advancing the Millennium Development Goals. On 8 July 2014, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland awarded him an honorary doctorate posthumously.

In April 2013 he received Princeton Theological Seminary’s Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Theology and Public Life, and in March 2014 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hope College in Michigan for leadership in higher education and the Reformed Church.

Stellenbosch University Rector

Russel graduation

In 2002, Professor Hayman Russel Botman became vice rector: teaching, a position he would occupy until his historic appointment as Stellenbosch University’s (SU) first black rector and vice chancellor in 2007.

Botman held this position for another five years until 2012. At the time of his death on 28 June 2014, he was also senior vice president of the Association of African Universities, chairperson of World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 and a director of Higher Education South Africa and Media24. 

The HOPE Project

Russel HOPE

Launch of HOPE

In 2010, Botman launched the Stellenbosch University HOPE Project. The initiative implements a science-for-society strategy that is aimed at tackling and solving challenges that are uniquely African with the use of state-of-the-art facilities and expertise from pioneers in various fields. This approach allows for a confrontation of global challenges and provides ideal opportunities for learning, shaping the new generation into hopeful leaders.

The close relationship between the HOPE Project and Stellenbosch University means that the core functions of teaching and learning, research and community interaction are prominent in both and are carried through in all actions.

The international development agenda is supported by SU through the HOPE Project by targeting the following key academic and research programmes:

·         Eradicating poverty and related conditions

·         Promoting human dignity and health

·         Promoting democracy and human rights

·         Promoting peace and security

·         Promoting a sustainable environment and a competitive industry

Botman, along with Stellenbosch University, was instrumental in initiating the HOPE Project and gathering academics and researchers to implement a successful programme.


Bursary Fund

The Russel Botman Bursary Fund was launched on the 18th of October 2013 on the 60th birthday of Professor Hayman Russel Botman.

As a special birthday request to his family and friends, he requested that they swap out their personalised gifts for a donation to the new fund.

The purpose of the fund is to provide financial support to talented youth situated in townships and rural areas that would otherwise not have the opportunity to attain a tertiary education.

Annual Lecture

The Russel Botman Memorial Lecture is presented by the Faculty of Theology and the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology at Stellenbosch University with the curation of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa.

This lecture is arranged on or close to the birthday of Russel Botman (18 October) at the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University.

Russel graduation frame

Tribute Book

Russel Botman: A Tribute 1953-2014

The celebratory volume relates the life story of the late Russel Botman from his earliest childhood until his last day as rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University.

The various tributes start with Botman’s youth and student years. Other aspects of his life portrayed include his church involvement, academic teaching, research, local and international university management, memorial reflection and a personal view.

“The nature of the tributes and celebratory volumes is that they can never be exhaustive. It tells a rich story from limited perspectives. However, it serves as an invitation, stimulus and inspiration to others connected to Botman to tell their stories about his story. If this volume fulfils that role, it has served its purpose.”

The Russel Botman Collection

Beryl Botman collected and donated personal documents and books to the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. The books are mostly kept in the faculty library and others in the Gericke Library. The documents include his profile, sermons, speeches, articles and notes. All of these were categorised and are kept at the archive of the Beyers Naude Centre for Public Theology where they are available for use.