Matie Voices

Prof W Blommaert

SU Rector 1926–1933

Prof Willem (W) Blommaert was born in East Flanders in Belgium on 15 June 1886. He received his primary education in Belgium before enrolling at the University of Ghent for a tertiary degree. There he studied under historian and political activist Henri Pirenne, and eventually obtained his doctorate in history (magna cum laude) for his thesis titled Les Châtelains de Flandre (The Castle Lords of Flandres).

As a student Blommaert became actively involved in campus and student life. He was chairperson of the Historical Society, for example, as well as a member of the student society ‘t Zal wel gaan’. After graduation the University of Ghent offered him a lecturing post in history, but he chose to rather take up a position in South Africa as deputy in the History Department at the Victoria College (today known as Stellenbosch University) during 1910. The following year he was promoted to fulltime professorship, a position he held for the next 15 years.

One of the projects he would take on during this period was the publication of Uit Ou Reisbeskrywings: Dagverhale en Ander Letterkundige Bronne oor die Kaap (written alongside Prof SFN Gie), an attempt to present the history of the first 50 years of settlement in the Cape Province to younger readers in a more relatable format. He also conducted research and unearthed empirical proof of the authenticity of the treaty between Piet Retief and Dingane.

When Prof Gie left the University in 1926, Blommaert was promoted to professor in general history and developments. In addition, he was appointed as chairperson of the Senate. Among the major developments that took place in and around the institution during his tenure include the foundation of the Department (later Faculty) of Forestry, as well as the merging of the Faculty of Agriculture and Elsenburg College. Several academic buildings, a new sports terrain and the pavilion at Coetzenburg stadium were also built during this period.

Prof Blommaert died in harness on 18 October 1934. At the time he was still working on several ambitious projects, including The Van Riebeeck Society’s Die Joernaal van Dirk Gysbert van Reenen, 1803, for which he was co-editor alongside Prof JA Wiid. He also conducted extensive research into the slave community of the Cape, which was included in the 1938 publication, Argiefjaarboek vir die Suid-Afrikaanse Geskiedenis.