SU loses a leader of stature

Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert (70), Matie alumnus, lecturer and former Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU), who died at his home in Johannesburg on Friday, was described by the SU Rector as “a leader of stature”.

Prof Russel Botman, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, who is currently on a visit to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in America, expressed his sympathy with the Slabbert family.

“A leader of stature has left us. Stellenbosch University salutes him and promises to maintain and expand the legacy of his leadership. Our thoughts are with his family and old Maties who were close to him”.

Dr Slabbert, a well-known and respected political commentator and founder of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), was inaugurated as the thirteenth Chancellor of Stellenbosch University on 1 August 2008. Citing health reasons he resigned from this position in September last year.

Prof Magda Fourie, Vice-Rector: Teaching, said Stellenbosch University “mourns the passing of one of its greatest sons but takes heart from fact that he leaves behind a rich legacy.”

” As student and later as lecturer he was one of the “alternative voices” of Stellenbosch. Staff, students and alumni will remember him as rolemodel of visionary leadership, somebody who believed relentlessly in dialogue and honest discourse”, she said.

Dr Slabbert, born in Pretoria obtained all four of his degrees at SU. In 1961 he obtained a BA degree, followed by a BA Hons (cum laude) in 1962, an MA degree (cum laude) in 1964 and a PhD degree in 1967. He was also a lecturer at SU and the first resident head of Majuba men’s residence. In 2003 he served as the chairman of the panel that investigated residence traditions and campus culture at Stellenbosch.

Besides lecturing at Stellenbosch, he has also held teaching positions at two other South African universities. From 1972 to 1974 he was Professor and Head of the Sociology Department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

He received both the Abe Bailey Travel Scholarship and the American Cultural Exchange Scholarship. He was a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in November 1982 and was selected as the Tanner Lecturer at Brasenose College, Oxford five years later. He is a former visiting fellow of the All Souls College, Oxford.

He has received honorary doctorates from Simon Fraser University in Canada and the Universities of Kwazulu-Natal and the Free State.

Dr Slabbert was the author of several books, including The Last White Parliament (1986), The Quest for Democracy (1992), Afrikaner Afrikaan (1999), The System and the Struggle (1990) and The Other Side of History (2006).

In 1974 he entered the arena of mainstream politics by becoming a Member of Parliament for the Progressive Party. He was the leader of the official opposition, the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), in the former government, from 1979 until 1986.

Following his resignation from politics, he and Dr Alex Boraine, who later became the deputy chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), formed Idasa (then known as the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa) in an attempt to promote dialogue, primarily between young Afrikaners and the then banned liberation movement, the ANC, and its affiliates. In 1987 Idasa organised the famous visit of mainly Afrikaner politicians, academics and business people to the ANC in Dakar, Senegal.

Thereafter Dr Slabbert became a full-time political analyst and consultant for a wide variety of companies.