Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) eighth chancellor, Balthazar Johannes (John) Vorster, was born on 13 December 1915 in Jamestown in the Eastern Cape. After matriculating from Sterkstroom High, he went on to obtain both a BA degree and an LLB from SU. As part of the latter, he had the opportunity to study sociology under Dr HF Verwoerd. At the time, he was appointed as chairperson of the Stellenbosch Junior National Party.
During this period, Vorster worked at the Cape division of the Supreme Court as a registrar to the judge president but retained an active interest in politics. During World War II, for instance, he defended Afrikaners who were opposed to South Africa’s involvement in the war, and who were subsequently charged in terms of the emergency regulations.
In addition, Vorster was elected chairperson of the Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP) in Port Elizabeth, became chairperson of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge (FAK), and chaired the Park Rugby Club.
After a brief stint as an attorney for a law firm in Brakpan, he made a return to politics in 1940 when he joined the Afrikaner Party (AP), an offshoot of a split of the HNP. Together with his wife Tini he organised the party’s annual congress in the city for the two following years.
After the AP and National Party (NP) merged in 1951 (the HNP was renamed as the National Party), Vorster was elected as member of parliament for the Nigel constituency two years later. During the same year (1953), he was admitted to the bar in Johannesburg and practised as an advocate until 1958 when he had to hang up his robe to fulfil the role as South Africa’s deputy mof education, culture and science and of welfare and pensions. This was followed by a promotion to minister of justice in 1961.
When Dr HF Verwoerd was assassinated on 6 September 1966, the National Party elected Vorster as his successor and he was inaugurated as the seventh prime minister of South Africa. He would later also be elected as state president for a period of eight months, from 10 October 1978 to 4 June 1979.
Vorster served as chancellor of SU from 1969 until his death on 10 September 1983. In addition to SU, three other universities also conferred honorary doctorates on him.