Starting out with four faculties (Science, Education, Arts and Social Sciences, and AgriSciences), 503 students and 40 lecturing staff on 2 April 1918, SU today is home to 10 faculties, a vibrant and cosmopolitan community of more than 30 000 students and 3000 staff members, spread over five campuses.

1859 - 1917

From seminary, boys’ school and college, to university


The Theological Seminary (generally known as the ‘kweekskool’) opened its doors in Stellenbosch on 1 November. The church was experiencing a major shortage of ministers, and it was also dissatisfied with the way in which clergymen were trained in the Netherlands. Town residents had earlier purchased the former Drostdy building (from the Dutch VOC period, in Dorp Street) and donated it to the church as a seminary building.


A high school was also required for theology students’ school education – a gymnasium that offered Latin and Greek, as in the Netherlands. For this purpose, the Stellenbosche Gymnasium (now the Paul Roos Gymnasium) was established – with teachers from Scotland.


Following a law passed by the then Cape parliament, the gymnasium became a type of tertiary institution – an Arts Department was created, with divisions for arts, mathematics and physics.


Stellenbosch residents celebrated two centuries since the establishment of an agricultural settlement in 1679, from which the town of Stellenbosch originated in 1685. The town residents decided to erect a college building as a ‘monument’ to celebrate the occasion.


This gymnasium with the Arts Department became the Stellenbosch College and Public School.


The college’s grand new building (nowadays known as the Old Main Building) was inaugurated. It was decided that the college would be named after Queen Victoria, who would celebrate 50 years on the British throne in 1887.


The palace sent notification from London that Her Majesty was “graciously pleased” with this proposal. The college was known as Viktoria Kollege, as it was called in Dutch. For 30 years, until 1917, it was known nationally as a quality academic institution.


Over the years, there had been a struggle to get the college recognised as a full-fledged university. On the death of Mr Jannie Marais, owner of the Stellenbosch farm Coetzenburg, in May 1915, the college received a legacy of £100 000 – this provided the necessary financial sustainability to establish a university.


The Union parliament promulgated “De Universiteit van Stellenbosch-wet” (Stellenbosch University Act, Act 13 of that year) which conferred university status on the Victoria College, Stellenbosch.


Three simultaneous Acts of Parliament on 2 April 1918 granted university status to the University of South Africa (today also known as Unisa), the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University.

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1918 - 1929

Founding decade


The convocation selected prof JI Marais, a theologian at the Theological Seminary (Kweekskool), as first chancellor, which was a ceremonial position. The men’s residence Huis Marais was later named after him.


As previously determined by government, SU commenced its operations as a university with four faculties on the “determined date” of Tuesday 2 April 1918.


The SU’s first graduation ceremony took place in April with Prof Marais as chancellor – the first time ever for Stellenbosch students to be awarded their qualifications here. [Previously everyone who had finished their studies at the Victoria College (and the college which resulted in the University of Cape Town) were awarded their qualifications by the University of the Cape of Good Hope, precursor to the current Unisa, at a ceremony in Cape Town.]


After Prof Marais’s death in August, Prof PJG de Vos, also a theologian, became chancellor.


Adv HA Fagan was appointed as the first law professor, and law students started their education in 1920.


A lecturer in Education, Prof GG Cillié, became the first rector. As rector he was (as until this day) also chairman of the SU senate. Since April 1918 Prof JJ Smith, a lecturer in languages, was the head of university management and the chairman of the senate. In 1970 the Faculty of Education building was named after Cillié.


A B-degree in education (BEd) was introduced at the Faculty of Education, one of four faculties that existed when the Victoria College became SU in 1918.


Dr WA Joubert, a lecturer in languages since the time of the Victoria College, was appointed as “Fondsen en Propagandaorganiseerder” (funds and propaganda organiser) to for the first time actively raise funds for the university.


A Faculty of Theology was established, bringing the total of SU faculties to six. The Seminary (established in 1859) still existed separately from this faculty, but in close collaboration with SU. In 1963, the Seminary joined this SU faculty in its entirety.


Prof GC Nel became the first botany professor. He convinced SU to make the premises of the current Botanical Garden available for that purpose. Nel was a student of Dr Avie Duthie, who had been conducting pioneering research in this department since 1902. Until her retirement in 1939 she had never become professor apparently because she evoked resentment for being pro-evolution and was outspokenly pro-British. A nature reserve east of the present Engineering complex was named after her.


Dr Lydia van Niekerk became the first ever woman to be appointed as professor, in Dutch at SU. No woman had ever before, even at Victoria College and its precursors, held such a position. The women’s residence Lydia was named after Van Niekerk.


A building for Agriculture in Victoria Street was taken into use, and was later named after Prof JH Neethling, a founding lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture (now AgriSciences). The JH Neethling Building now accommodates the Department of Viticulture and Oenology, South Africa’s only university studies in this field.


Prof GG Cillié, the first rector, resigned and the position of rector was abolished. As chairman of the senate, Profs SFN Gie (in 1926), W Blommaert (until early 1933) and RW Wilcocks (since mid-1933) occupied the position as SU head of management until the re-introduction of the rector’s position in 1934.


The Faculty of Commerce (now Economic and Management Sciences) was established with CGW Schumann already appointed as lecturer in commercial sciences in 1924. With more than 8 500 students this is the largest SU faculty nowadays. Schumann, later professor and dean, was the founder of the Bureau for Economic Research (1944), and in the eighties a faculty building was named after him.


The Berg- en Toerklub (BTK) was established as student society “to foster interest in and love for nature and the country through mountain and country tours”. The club will be celebrating its 90-year existence in 2018.

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1930 - 1939

Depression, growth


The University took over the responsibility for the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (WAT) (Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language) which Prof JJ Smith of the SU had advocated for since 1920 and which had started functioning in Cape Town in 1926. (In 1999 the WAT relocated from the SU’s Humanities Building to a site in Banghoek Road, Stellenbosch, and in 2000 it was registered as a Section 21 company.)


Chief Justice Jacob de Villiers succeeded Prof PJG de Vos as chancellor, but passed away early in 1932.


Prof A Moorrees, a theologian who was also known as champion for Afrikaans, became chancellor.


SU’s first fully-fledged administration building was commissioned – a building of two storeys in Victoria Street (now the Admin B Building) which has since been accommodating among others the Rector’s Office. More storeys were added by 1960, expanding the building considerably.


The new Domestic Sciences Building (now the Admin C Building) was formally opened, after the SU women’s society had also been raising funds for this since 1921.


Prof RW Wilcocks, a lecturer in psychology, became rector after the position of rector (which was abolished in 1926) was re-introduced. As chairman of the senate he held the position of SU head of management since 1933.


SU took over the SA Conservatorium for music, established in 1905 as a private institution. Over time this became the current Department of Music. The purchase price of 6 500 pounds included the premises in Neethling Street, the building itself (now known as the Old Conservatory) as well as the furniture.


The Department of Physical Education (now Sports Science, Faculty of Education) was established with one lecturer, Dr Ernst Jokl from Germany. This popular field of study (offered at Coetzenburg) quickly attracted hundreds of students and contributed to the recognised Afrikaans word “jokkel” for this field of study.


The building for the new Carnegie library was completed at the site where the Pavillion rugby fields used to be located. This was made possible by donations by former students and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Since then this building had been expanded a few times and was the home of the SU library for nearly half a century. It was converted into the Admin A Building after 1984. (The Scottish-American millionaire Andrew Carnegie in 1912 had also donated 6 000 pounds for the Victoria College library.)


The new chancellor was Dr JD Kestell, a clergyman, leader of the people and Bible translator who, among others, had been rector of the Grey University College (later the Free State University).

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1940 - 1949

Joy, after peace


The student newspaper, Die Matie, was established.


Dr DF Malan, a former clergyman and newspaper editor who was to become head of state in 1948, became chancellor after the death of Dr Kestell.


A Department of Engineering was established in the then Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (now Sciences), which would culminate in the establishment of the fully-fledged Faculty of Engineering in 1942.


The Bureau for Economic Research, SU’s oldest research institution, was established.


Having been temporarily been accommodated in the then “Fysikagebou” (Physics Building) adjacent to the Ou Hoofgebou (Old Main Building) in Victoria Street, the Faculty of Engineering moved to its new building, the former school building of the current Paul Roos Gimnasium, also in Victoria Street. The old ‘Fysikagebou’ (Physics Building) dated from the 1800s and was demolished in the 1960s.

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1950 - 1959

Thriving, but uncertain


Historian Prof HB Thom, head of the Department of History, succeeded Prof Wilcocks as rector.


The Faculty of Medicine (now Medicine and Health Sciences) was established, with training initially at the Karl Bremer Hospital in Bellville.


A forestry field of study was introduced in the Faculty of Agriculture in 1932. This became the Faculty of Forestry in 1956, the only one in this field of study in South Africa. It now forms part of the Faculty of AgriSciences.


The Bureau for Information was established, inter alia for fund-raising and liaison with former students. This in time resulted in the Department of Development as well as the Stellenbosch Foundation, precursors of the current divisions Corporate Communication and Development and Alumni Relations.


The Bureau for Information published the first edition of Matieland, a publication for alumni, a decade after the termination of Die Stellenbosse Oudstudent (The Stellenbosch Old Student) produced by the Old Students’ Union for 16 years.


A first-year system was introduced with separate “first-year residences” (Minerva for women and Dagbreek for men). The system was gradually phased out by the mid-sixties.


Lectures started for the first students in the new Extramural Division, initially in classrooms at the Bellville High School as well as from 1964 in the Division’s new building near the Karl Bremer Hospital. The MBA courses, and over time the SU Business School, originated from this but the Extramural Division was later closed.


The Bureau (now Centre) for Student Counselling was established. Since then it has been providing comprehensive support and psychological development services to registered students.


Dr TE D?nges, minister of finance, became chancellor. (He was later elected as SA’s second state president, but died before his inauguration in 1968.)

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1960 - 1969

Stormy Sixties


The historical farm Coetzenburg was purchased to acommodate sport – after a small portion of it, adjacent to the Welgevallen experimental farm, had aleady been bought in 1919 and was gradually developed as sportsgrounds. In 1965 the farm Vergenoeg, east of Coetzenburg, was also purchased for student sport and recreation.


The Faculty of Military Science was established to award B, M en DMil degrees. The district of Vredenburg, home to the faculty at Saldanha, was proclaimed a SU seat.


Medicial students established Uskor (SU Clinical Organisation) as a voluntary medical outreach service in Bellville South, which was later expanded even to neighbouring countries and from which the campuswide Maties Community Service (currently Social Impact) developed over time.


On 14 November a Matie athlete, De Villiers Lamprecht, became the first South African to run a dream mile (1 609,344 metres) in less than four minutes at an athletics event at Coetzenburg.


SU celebrated “100 years of higher education” – commemorating the existence of Stellenbosch Gymnasium resulting in college training over time and which eventually led to the establishment of Stellenbosch University in 1918.


After the death of Dönges (chancellor since 1959), he was succeeded by BJ Vorster, prime minister since 1966.


The General Engineering Building in Banghoek Road, east of the main campus, was occupied – the first portion of a building complex which arose over time until 1979 and had since been expanded further.

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1970 - 1979

Things are changing


Prof JN de Villiers, head of the Department of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, succeeded Prof HB Thom as rector.


Under the direction of the new rector a planning committee for the SU Council was established, resulting in a development plan for academic, physical and financial planning and the later establishment of the SU’s Planning Division, which contributed considerably to extensive campus development.


Training commenced at the new Faculty of Dentistry at Tygerberg campus. This faculty would later become a school in the Faculty of Health Sciences, but ceased to exist at SU from 2004 after amalgamation with the University of Western Cape’s Faculty of Dentistry. The latter was established in 1972, and for many years existed separately in the same building as the SU Faculty.


Tygerberg Hospital’s first in-patients were admitted and the Faculty of Medicine started relocating from Karl Bremer Hospital to a new faculty building at Tygerberg campus, which was inaugurated in 1975.


The DF Malan Memorial Centre (now Coetzenburg Centre) at Coetzenburg was inaugurated as a multisport centre for indoor events, boasting a large meeting hall where for instance graduation ceremonies were held.


Prof Wynand Mouton, a nuclear physicist and SU lecturer, became the first ever vice-rector, a new position. SU nowadays have four vice-rectors. (Mouton was later rector of the University of the Orange Free State, now the Free State University.)


The Langenhoven Student Centre was opened 55 years after the start of fund-raising for such a place of assembly for students. It was named in memory of the former student CJ Langenhoven and students started naming it Neelsie. In 1995 it was reconstructed to become a shopping centre (named Neelsie) containing a variety of businesses.


The SU council approved the (partial) opening of SU to ‘non-white’ students for the first time, only for graduate students in courses which were not available to them elsewhere in the Western Cape.


The new Conservatory Building in Victoria Street was inaugurated. The acoustics in the main concert hall is regarded as the best in the country.


The Danie Craven Stadium at Coetzenburg was completed, named after former rugby legend and chairman of World Rugby, Dr Danie Craven. For many years he was head of the Department of Physical Education (now Sport Science, Faculty of Education) and later the Sports Office (now Maties Sport).


Prof MJ de Vries, former SU lecturer in chemistry, who had succeeded Prof Wynand Mouton in 1976 as (at that time the only) vice-rector, became rector since Prof JN de Villiers had to retire as rector earlier that year due to health reasons.

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1980 - 1989

Sure, but unsure


After the death of the vice-chancellor, Dr JS Gericke, earlier in the year, the rector, De Vries, became the first academic to also hold the ceremonial position of vice-chancellor, in addition to the position of rector. Gericke was SU’s first vice-chancellor, following on Prof A Moorrees (since 1918), Judge HS van Zijl (since 1933) and Dr Karl Bremer (from 1950). The vice-chancellor had also been the SU council chairman until 1981. Since then Council elects a chairman from its own ranks.


Former SU rector Prof HB Thom was inaugurated as chancellor in May after Vorster had resigned from the position in December 1982. Thom died in December 1983, shortly after Vorster’s death in September.


The new SU library building was commissioned as one of the largest and best equiped university libraries in the country, and South Africa’s only library that is completely located underground.


The first test-tube baby in Africa was born, a breakthrough by a research team under guidance of Prof Thinus Kruger (Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology). He was the founder of a fertility clinic at Tygerberg Hospital.


State President PW Botha was inaugurated as chancellor, but resigned from this position after four years.


SU’s new Bellville Park campus came into operation when the SU Business School relocated from temporary lecture rooms behind Karl Bremer Hospital to a four-storey building on this new satellite campus. Further expansions and developments followed later.


A position of director: student affairs was introduced.


Dr Jan van der Horst, a prestigious businessman, became the 11th chancellor. As law student he had been the chairman of the student representative council, and since 1982 the first elected SU council chairman.

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1990 - 1999

Another country


Nelson Mandela visited SU for a meeting on invitation of the (then) Contextual Hermeneutics Centre. In his speech, the first on an Afrikaans campus, he expressed, inter alia, his encouraging view of the role of Afrikaans in a new SA government dispensation. In 1996, after Mandela had become president in 1994, SU bestowed an honorary doctorate on him, and also in 2004 on his successor, President Thabo Mbeki.


The Sasol Art Museum and SU Museum were opened, located in the former school building of the Bloemhof Girls’ School which was built in 1907, declared as national monument in 1979 and extensively refurbished with a donation by Sasol.


In the same week of Mandela’s visit here, Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, visited SU at the start of an extensive state visit to South Africa.


Matie athlete Elana Meyer won a silver medal in the 10 000 metres at the Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.


Prof Andreas van Wyk, vice-rector (operations) since 1991, became rector and vice-chancellor. He was a lecturer in commercial law, former SU dean of law, and a former director general of the state department Constitutional Development and Planning.


After a year’s construction, the Langenhoven Student Centre (now formally called the Neelsie Centre) opened its doors as shopping centre containing a variety of businesses. The concept of a student centre such as this is described as unique in South Africa. The original building dates from 1975.


Radio Matie (later MFM) became a fully-fledged community radio station with modern studios and offices in the Neelsie Student Centre, broadcasting up to as far as 20km to approximately 35 000 listeners, including the broad public as well.


The hockey club, one of the strongest sport clubs on campus, got a synthetic surface – AstroTurf – made possible, inter alia, by funds generated by the female hockey players. The separate clubs for women and men amalgamated in 1992.


During the Rugby World Cup SU was the only university to host one of the games, namely that between Australia and Romania at the Danie Craven Stadium at Coetzenburg.


Prof Elize Botha, doyenne of the Afrikaans literary world, became the first woman to hold the position of SU chancellor. She was, inter alia, the first female board chairperson of the South African Academy for Arts and Science, first female board chairperson of the National Library’s Council and first female trustee board chairperson of the Stigting vir Afrikaans (Foundation for Afrikaans).


The Faculty of Engineering made news headlines with Sunsat, the first satellite developed and built in Africa. This microsatellite, a Leo satellite (‘Low Earth Orbit’) was launched in California. In 2009 a second microsatellite, SumbandilaSat, which the faculty had designed and built in collaboration with SunSpace as well as the CSIR, was launched in Kazakstan from the world’s largest launching pad.


SU council dissolved the 63-year old Stellenbosch University choir. After tremendous criticism by former members of the choir and the public, Council was forced to recall this decision at a special Council meeting. During the period 2004 to 2016 the choir was chosen on various occasions as the best youth or non-professional choir in the world.

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2000 - 2009

Millennium milestones


On 20 March 2000 SU accepted its Strategic Framework for the turn of the Century and Beyond. In this document SU “committed itself to an open, broad process of self-scrutiny and self-renewal.” It also “acknowledged its contribution to the injustices of the past, and therefore committed itself to appropriate redress and development initiatives.”


As part of a community interaction the Woordfees was launched, which in time would become the most sustainable Afrikaans arts festival, also hosting the WOW project (Words Open Worlds) to promote Afrikaans under young people countrywide. Both initiatives were so successful that they were later managed independently (each with its own staff component) at SU.


Prof Chris Brink, vice-chancellor (research) at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, became rector and vice-chancellor. He was previously, inter alia, a lecturer in mathematics at SU and associated with the University of Cape Town, has two doctorates and was an A-graded researcher at the National Research Foundation.


The Mostertdrift campus was formally commissioned as home of Stias, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Research. In 1999 SU purchased this historic property.


The former Lückhoff school building in Banghoek Road, Stellenbosch, was commissioned and refurbished as “beacon of hope” and rededicated to a neighbourhood community that had been relocated in the sixties due to the then Group Areas Act. The building accommodates SU’s Community Interaction Division (currently Social Impact) as well as Matie Community Service and various (non-governmental) community organisations.


The modern building of the Wallenberg Research Centre was commisioned, adjacent to the historic former Mostertsdrift farm house where Stias, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Research, is located. The new building was made possible by a donation from Sweden.


Prof Russel Botman, an internationally recognised theologian who had advised the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Geneva and who was president of the SA Council of Churches, became rector and vice-chancellor. He had been lecturer in practical theology and missiology at SU from 2002 and took over from Prof Chris Brink who became vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle in Britain.


After Prof Elize Botha’s death in November 2007, Dr Van Zyl Slabbert was elected as chancellor. He had to resign from office in September 2009 however due to ill health and passed away in 2010. As SU former student and lecturer, he was, inter alia, a former leader of the opposition in parliament and co-founder of Idasa, which initiated dialogue with the then banned ANC.


Dr Johann Rupert, leading business leader and entrepreneur, became chancellor. He honed his business skills in, inter alia, New York before returning in 1979 and establishing Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) as well as the Small Business Corporation (now Business Partners) which had already helped to create approximately 500 000 employment opportunities in South Africa. (In 2014, he was elected as chancellor for a second and last five-year term.)

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2010 - 2017

Future of HOPE


SU’s HOPE Project was launched as a strategic long-term plan for the next decade – with SU focusing on five of the International Millennium objective themes in future, thereby creating synergy between higher education on the one hand and development and economic growth on the other.


SU became the first university in Africa to sign the Berlin Declaration on open access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities.


Prof Wim de Villiers became rector and vice-chancellor. As student in medicine he was awarded US’s prestige chancellor’s medal; was on the staff of SU’s Faculty of Medicine from 1986; obtained a DPhil at Oxford; and in his 18 years in the USA inter alia held the position of head of department at the Kentucky Medical Centre as well as administrative head of a hospital. He was selected as one of the USA’s best doctors and later became dean of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town.


Prof Russel Botman, rector and vice-chancellor, whose term was extended for another five years in 2012, died of a heart attack in June. He was SU’s only head of management since 1918 who died while still rector.


A member of the Maties-Helderberg sport club for people with disabilities and former manager of the SU gymnasium at Coetzenburg, former Matie Ernst van Dyk, won the Boston marathon for the 10th time as wheelchair athlete and hand cyclist. He also won a variety of other medals, for example at the Paralympic Summer Games in Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) and in 2006 received the Laureus World Sport’s Award for Sportsperson with a Disability.


During a marathon operation of nine hours a transplant team under direction of Prof André van der Merwe (Department of Urology) made world history with the first ever penis transplant. This was of major importance since hundreds of young men in Southern Africa loose their penises every year due to traditional circumcision practices. In 2017 Van der Merwe and his team made history once again by being the first in the world to succeed with such an operation for the second time.


The SU choir under the leadership of André van der Merwe was selected as the overall winner at the eighth international choir games in Russia, thereby remaining the world’s best non-professional choir on the Interkultur list since 2012.


SU became the first academic institution in Africa to offer a structured cancer science programme with the introduction of the new MPhil in Cancer Science.


SU celebrated the opening of the new and improved Van der Ster Building, after a large part of the building had been destroyed in a fire in February 2015.


SU and the Department of Defence signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen the relationship between these institutions.

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