Goodbye Prof Russel Botman

2014-06-29 15:00

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Professor Russel Botman, rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University, died yesterday in his sleep at the age of 60 from an apparent heart attack.

City Press’ sister publication Rapport learnt that Botman was not feeling well on Friday night and decided to sleep in the spare room of his home. His wife, Beryl, could not wake him yesterday morning.

Scores of cars were parked outside Botman’s house in Stellenbosch from yesterday morning as people arrived to pay their respects.

Former national planning minister Trevor Manuel said he was “deeply saddened” by the passing of a person he describes as “an inspiration, a friend and a comrade”.

Manuel added: “My deepest condolences go to Beryl and children. Professor Botman’s profound contribution will

remain etched in the memory of the many whose lives he touched,” he said.

One of Botman’s friends, Stellenbosch University Council spokesperson Andricus van der Westhuizen, said his death was more of a shock because he looked after his health and “ate carefully” as he suffered from high cholesterol and diabetes.

Van der Westhuizen said Botman had not been feeling well for the entire week and had been on sick leave since Wednesday. He said Botman’s passing was a huge blow for the university.

“The university has to overcome major challenges and there was nobody better to keep all the balls in the air,” he said.

After a long day at work, Botman and Beryl liked to stroll along the beach in Gordon’s Bay, where they own a house. He was an aspiring golfer, but never really found the time to practise his skills.

The couple and their children – Hayman, Lizelle, Ilse and Roxanne – were a tight-knit family. The day Botman was appointed rector in 2006, his children and wife surprised him at their house with balloons and congratulatory banners.

He enjoyed cooking for them and made a mean meat potjie, always using recipes as he did not like to improvise in the kitchen.

Botman studied isiXhosa over the past few years and viewed multilingualism as a key leadership skill. He was a passionate proponent of diversity and on Friday, mere hours before he died, wished his Muslim students all the best for their fast during the month of Ramadan.

Van der Westhuizen said Botman’s family and the university community were overcome with grief. “For now, we are going into a period of mourning. Luckily, the university has strong managers who can lead the organisation at this time,” he said.

Professor Leopoldt van Huyssteen, the chief operations officer of the university, has been appointed acting rector.

Botman, who would have turned 61 on October 18, was due to travel to Scotland next week, where he would have received an honorary doctorate from the University of Aberdeen.

Stellenbosch Mayor Conrad Sidego said Botman was excited about receiving the honour, which was to be handed over by Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Meanwhile, tributes for Botman have been pouring in. Botman has been rector and vice-chancellor of  Stellenbosch University since 2007. In 2012, he was appointed for another five-year term.

In a statement yesterday, Esmaré Weideman, the CEO of City Press’ parent company Media24, on whose board Botman sat, said he was a highly regarded member “whose quiet authority and sharp intellectual and philosophical insight into the role and strategic course of Media24 were deeply valued”.

She added: “On top of it, he was just such a lovely man. His death, so shortly after the passing of Professor Jakes Gerwel, our previous chairman, comes as a double blow.”

Media24 chairperson Professor Rachel Jafta said she would never forget his “respectful, warm and approachable nature, and delightful sense of humour”.

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