Born on 19 November 1930 in Krugersdorp, Prof Elizabeth Botha (née Lindes) was an author, literator, journalist, editor and academic of several firsts. For example, during 1987 she became the first woman to take up the vice-chair position at the South African Academy for Science and Art and also became the organisation’s first female chairperson two years later. A few years earlier, during 1982, the academy awarded her the Gustav Preller Medal for Literary Theory and Literary Criticism, making her the first woman to receive this prize.
Botha came to study English, Dutch and Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University (SU) in 1948. During this period she joined the editorial team of the student publication Die Stellenbosse Student, served as a member of the Student Representative Council (SRC) and became the head student of the Huis ten Bosch residence.
Referred to as the ‘Elf Queen of Afrikaans Literature’ by local author and academic Marlene van Niekerk, Botha pursued a career in journalism before joining the academia. One of the newspapers she worked for was Die Burger (1952 – 1953). The publication is part of the Naspers publishing group, which she would rejoin a few years later as the first female to be appointed to its board of directors (1988).
During her academic career, Botha occupied positions that included lectureships at the University of South Africa (Unisa), the University of Pretoria (UP), as well as the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). In addition, she served as a professor at Unisa until her retirement in 1995.
During 1998 Botha again made history when she became SU’s very first female chancellor. She was re-elected to this position in 2003 and thus served two concurrent five-year terms.
Elsewhere, Botha made an impact on the modern South African political sphere as well, such as chairing the 1993 Commission on National Symbols that was tasked by the Multiparty Negotiations Forum to create South Africa’s new national flag and anthem. She served on the 1994 national committee for the inauguration of president Nelson Mandela and was also a member of the National Arts Council and board chairperson of the State Library.
Botha passed away on 16 November 2007. Among the many awards she received during her lifetime are the NP van Wyk Louw Medal, the Order for Meritorious Service, the Unisa Council’s Award for Exceptional Academic Merit, honorary doctorates from SU and the University of Pretoria, as well as the ATKV Prestige Award.