‘Despairing youth should be given hope of a better future’ – Prof Russel Botman in 2013 Kuyper Prize Lecture, Princeton, USA

Globalisation could increasingly drive the youth worldwide into the arms of fanatical and extremist groups because of public and economic policy that continue to exclude the poor and other marginalised groups, Prof Russel Botman, recipient of the 2013 Abraham Kuyper Prize, warned in the US last night (18 April).

Prof Russel Botman  delivering his acceptance lecture at the Princeton Theological Seminary (Photo: Jonathan Britt)

Prof Russel Botman delivering his acceptance lecture at the Princeton Theological Seminary (Photo: Jonathan Britt)

Botman, who is Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, was speaking at the Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) in New Jersey where he delivered his acceptance lecture to an international audience of theologians, academics and conference delegates.

Earlier, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday, the Seminary posted this “prayer for the people of Boston” on its website: “[M]ay these events … not paralyze us in fear; but rather, may they propel us to search diligently for the pathways to peace that sometimes seem to have all but disappeared.”

In his lecture, Botman pointed to the “high levels of despair we are seeing on the streets all around the world as the on-going economic crisis takes its toll.”

In a subsequent radio interview he highlighted the high level of youth unemployment in South Africa as “a problem that is endangering the future of young people”.

“The question is what do you do under such circumstances – give in to despair, or hope against all hope? It is time to realise our people’s dreams and hopes of social equality, political freedom and economic justice. It is time to see that all that is ecologically, economically and in this sense morally wrong with our world is having disastrous repercussions,” he told the audience in Princeton.

“If we do not carry out this task, the global youth may find their only hope in extreme right-wing or fanatical leftist groups.”

PTS President Dr M Craig Barnes said in a citation that the 15th annual Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life was awarded to Botman “for his leadership to the churches and universities of South Africa, and witness to the world, in teaching and preaching a Gospel of hope and reconciliation for all God’s people, regardless of class or colour.”

Botman, who holds a PhD in Theology and is an ordained minister of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, served as President of the South African Council of Churches from 2003 to 2007. He is currently in his second term at the helm of SU, one of Africa’s top research universities, and is also a Vice-President of the Association of African Universities.

“It is a great honour for me to receive this prize. I feel humbled, both because of the legacy of Abraham Kuyper and the stature of the Princeton Theological Seminary,” Botman said.

The Kuyper Prize, considered to be one of the highest accolades bestowed upon reformed theologians worldwide, was established in honour of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a Dutch theologian, journalist and politician who was instrumental in the founding of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1880.

Botman acknowledged the role played in his academic development by his mentors, Jaap Durand and Dirk Smit, and thanked his wife, Beryl, and his children, for their support.

He said: “The problem with an African Dream consisting solely of economic growth and material prosperity is that it provides false hope. Globalisation – specifically the kind that excludes and marginalises – is endangering not only the sustainability of the planet but also the moral welfare of humankind.

“Public and economic policy that seems to redefine humanity as Homo economicus reinforces this exclusion. It is influencing behaviour towards aggressive competitiveness in which only the richest survive, yet claiming that the ‘trickle-down effect’ will solve the problem of poverty.”

Botman concluded, “We must dream a new dream. Instead of pursuing the kind of industrialisation that endangers the planet, we should think first of what is best for the planet. Instead of concentrating on selfish individualism, we should not forget that we reside in a global community of people who all deserve economic justice.”

Botman has indicated that he will be making a contribution from the prize money associated with the award to the bursary fund of SU’s HOPE Project (www.thehopeproject.co.za). He supports financially needy students in theology and learners with disabilities.

  • Click here for the delivery version of the speech.