The History Of The Relationship Between The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa: Introduction

SAVUSA POEM Proceedings. Rozenberg Publishers 2005 – ISBN 90 5170 587 5

In 2005 the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) celebrates its 125th anniversary. It is a celebration in style: a yearlong programme which contains both scholarly elements – every faculty for instance has been asked to organise an international conference in a particular month of the lustrum year around a specific and fitting theme – and festive elements, like for instance an alumni-day ending with a concert of the world famous Portuguese singer Christina Branco. The celebrations are accompanied by the publication of a number of commissioned books about various historical aspects of 125 years of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. One of them is a study of the relations between the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and South Africa. This relationship dates back to the very beginning of the VU in 1880 – the year in which the First Anglo-Boer War started! The University History Committee asked historian Prof. G.J. Schutte to write this book, entitled De VU en Zuid-Afrika, 1880-2005.[i] The book has been published in December 2005.

In the book Prof. Schutte tells in detail the history of the relationship between the VU and South Africa. This relationship started 125 years ago, in 1880, as a result of the rediscovery by the Dutch of their Afrikaner broedervolk, and a kindred feeling of stamverwantschap (kinship) with the young nation of the Dutch Afrikaners, that was cherished for many decades. The Dutch ardently supported the Boer Republic’s struggle against British imperialism during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, and also the resulting movement for cultural, social and political emancipation of the Afrikaner people. For the VU academics, this affinity contained an extra value, that of sharing a common religion with the Afrikaners, a common Calvinist tradition and conviction. From 1900 onwards, the VU played an important role as alma mater for generations of Afrikaners, especially for theologians of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk and the Gereformeerde Kerk. The academic knowledge that was acquired at the VU, was used to develop the South African universities (Stellenbosch and Potchefstroom, and many more) and Afrikaner society and culture.

In about 1960, a new period in VU history was set in motion. A gradual movement away from Kuyperian tradition and the closed group of ‘Calvinists’ could be observed. Critical remarks were made with regard to Kuyper’s Encyclopedia, his philosophy of science, his political and social principles and practice (‘pillarisation’). A new stance was taken on the role of the Christian in society, also in matters of colonialism, racism and the relationship between the First and the Third World. The general western urge for democratisation in those years triggered a change in the ideas on academic education, research and academic policy. The VU, though known for its classical and sometimes patriarchical education system, had since its founding been conscious of its being indebted to the emancipation of the kleine luyden (‘common people’) and considered social awareness as a principle. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ 125 Years Of Sentiments And Good Faith

This academic year (2005), the Vrije Universiteit enjoys its 125th anniversary.[i] In 1879, a handful of orthodox reformed Dutch gentlemen founded an Association for the advancement of Christian Higher Education, and on 20 October 1880, Abraham Kuyper inaugurated the Vrije Universiteit, Academia libera reformata, by delivering his famous lecture on Sphere Sovereignty, Soevereiniteit in eigen kring.

Kuyper was never a very modest man, and he certainly was not inclined to be modest at that moment. The credits of the university he opened, were three faculties, five professors and five students. As an accomplished rhetorician he described it as onze kleine School, met den Universiteitsnaam zelve tot blozens toe verlegen (our small school, blushing to be called a university). This was not meant as an apology, but rather to make a Hegelian turn: the real credits of the VU were writ­ten in the Synod of Dordt, its claim to nobi­lity was the cou­rage and moral dedi­cation of its sup­por­ters, and its worldwide value and impor­tance (Kuyper 1880). In the Kuype­rian world pano­ra­ma, his Uni­ver­sity would become the intel­lec­tual centre of the inter­nati­onal Calvinist world – the acade­mic power-house for all the re­for­med chur­ches, nati­ons and societies in Euro­pe, Ame­rica, and the Dutch colo­nies in the East. And for South Africa, of cour­se.

October 1880: this is also the month in which Piet Cronjé, on be­half of 127 Transvaler burghers, de­cla­red to the Landdrost of Pot­chefstroom that they would no longer pay any taxes to the Bri­tish go­vern­ment, as that government had ille­gally an­nexed and stolen their country (Van Oordt 1898). His language was quite akin to what Abraham Kuyper had written as a commentary on Shep­sto­ne’s an­nexation of the Transvaal in 1877, when he stated in his daily De Stan­daard: rob­bery is a sin to the eyes of the Lord, even by a crow­ned robber.

As a journalist and politician, Kuyper followed the South African developments on a daily basis. He was well-informed about the South African situation. He had met personally with the rising star of the Afrikaner Movement, editor of Die Patriot, chairman of the Genootskap van Regte Afri­ka­ners and founder of the Afri­kaner Bond, the Revd. S.J. du Toit. And he was regu­lar­ly in­formed by the Revd. Frans Lion Cachet, back in the Nether­lands after a stay in South Africa for more than thir­ty ye­ars. Kuy­per welcomed Paardekraal and the declaration of in­de­pen­dence of the Trans­vaal Volk. He was very ac­tive in the Am­ster­dam Trans­vaal Committee and, in May 1881, became one of the foun­ders of a coun­trywide, lasting pro-Boer organi­sation, the Neder­lands-Zuid-Afrikaanse Vereni­ging (NZAV). The mem­bers of the NZAV consis­ted mainly of liberals and con­serva­ti­ves and some radi­cals, such as so­ci­al-democrats and antirevo­lutio­naries. In close coop­era­tion with S.J. du Toit, now Superintendent of Edu­cation in the Trans­vaal, Kuyper tried to dominate the coop­era­tion with the Trans­vaal (material aid, advice on the deve­lopment of the new Afrikaner Republic, emi­gra­ti­on), to pro­tect the good or­tho­doxy of the Trans­vaal­ers ­against the ungod­ly Dutch liber­als – as had happened in the 1870s, when Pre­si­dent Burgers – a de­frocked liberal DRC (NGK) dominee! – with the help of his libe­ral Dutch friends had tried to moder­nise the edu­ca­tion and had ­made a mess of the Trans­vaal, only to pre­pare it for an­nexation by Shep­stone! Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ Political And Organisational Developments

In the long history of VU relations with South Africa the year 1992 provided a landmark: the VU came back to South Africa, as a partner of the University of the North (UNIN) in a big pre-entry science project funded by the European Union. UNIN is a so-called historically black university, founded under apartheid policy. In 1992 five VU specialists started working at UNIN, continuing till the end of 1998. After 1992 the cooperation VU-UNIN was extended to other fields, and UNIN is still a main partner of the VU in South Africa.

1992 was two years after the Wende in South Africa, President de Klerk’s transition speech in parliament and the release of his successor, Nelson Mandela, from prison. At last a new South Africa came in sight. The VU was the first Dutch university to re-enter South Africa.
Traditionally relations of the VU with South Africa were based on theology and philosophy. The VU that came back to South Africa in 1992, was a very different university, with strong expertise, many years of experience and a good reputation in development cooperation, mainly built up in countries in southern Africa outside South Africa since 1976.
That change in the VU interface with South Africa is the main theme of my presentation about the period 1972 till the present.

Point of departure in 1972
At the beginning of 1972 the situation at the VU with regard to South Africa had nothing remarkable:
* Contacts were maintained mainly by theologians and philosophers.
* The exchange of professors with the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, agreed on in 1958, had come to a standstill at the end of the 1960s.
* A general, strong uneasiness about apartheid policy in South Africa prevailed. VU theologian Professor J.H. Bavinck had been one of the first in the Netherlands (1953) to voice basic criticism. Traditional South African VU-partners in theology and philosophy had appeared to be pillars of apartheid ideology.
* With regard to development cooperation frustration was prominent. In the years after the 1961 VU-Corps congress it had been decided that the VU in view of its identity as a Christian university in the modern world would go for development cooperation. Consequently since 1967 a big effort had been made to support the new Université Libre du Congo at Kisangani. This university however had been nationalized and the VU start in development cooperation had turned out to be a failure, though experience had been gained.
* Apart from this, minds and time at the VU in the years before 1972 were fully taken up by tempestuous growth of the university, by building a big modern campus, by a new ecumenical codification of its identity as a Christian university, and by participation in the nationwide movement for democratisation of university governance. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ Can ‘New’ Meet ‘Old’? VU-South Africa, 1976-Present: Development Cooperation In Southern Africa

In his paper, Brinkman provides an overview of the roots of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s (VU) development cooperation activities in southern Africa in the second half of the 1970s. Upon cancelling the cooperation agreement with Potchefstroom University in 1976, the VU decided to develop links with other universities in the Southern African region. The idea was to aim at universities that were playing a clear role in the development of black leadership for the future of the sub-continent. As ‘black’ universities inside South Africa were also heavily influenced by ‘apartheid’ policies, the choice was made to look towards universities in surrounding countries. The first cooperation links were established with the universities in Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. As Brinkman also indicates, these new links fitted well into the new Dutch national policies for development cooperation, as they emerged during Jan Pronk’s first period as Minister for Development Cooperation in the 1970s. Pronk established a new funding channel for cooperation links between Dutch universities and universities in developing countries.

Brinkman identifies some themes in the history of the relationship between the VU and South Africa:
* The flourishing of development cooperation activities at the VU, particularly, but not exclusively, in southern Africa;
* The emergence of particular focal areas for development cooperation at the VU based on the needs of partner institutions;
* The return of the VU to South Africa after the Wende in the early 1990s;
* ‘New’ meeting ‘old’ in South Africa (and vice versa), in terms both of themes and of partner institutions;
* The challenges posed to universities because of the emergence of the ‘knowledge society’ and the consequences this may have for a traditional academic organisation.

The purpose of this paper is twofold:
1. To illustrate Brinkman’s themes in one particular focal area of development cooperation at the VU, namely basic science education;
2. To raise some fundamental issues regarding development cooperation in Dutch universities, the position of such cooperation at the VU, and its role in South Africa.

In the Netherlands, both the position of universities and the development cooperation policies have undergone fundamental changes over the decades since the 1970s, and particularly in the 1990s. The question raised here is whether ‘new’ can really still meet ‘old’, and what would be needed for that to happen.
Basic science education is only one of the focal areas in development cooperation at the VU. Other prominent fields of cooperation are in natural resource management (soil and water conservation, land reform, community based natural resource management, water harvesting, and land husbandry), in university management development, and in the use of ICT in higher education institutions.
In natural resource management, strong links also exist in South Africa, particularly with the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape. In university management development, there are cooperation links in South Africa with the University of the North and with North West University, and with the University of Pretoria (1999-2001). Some work in this field has also been done at the University of the Free State.

The choice of this paper for basic science education is explained by the fact that it has been the largest individual area of work over the decades, and that it most clearly demonstrates a few of the fundamental tensions regarding the relationship between universities and development cooperation. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ A ‘New’ History For A ‘New’ South Africa

Historians need not worry about a lack of work in the future. There is always a past in the future. And their duty is to study that past, sine ira et studio, as Tacitus put it nearly 2000 years ago. The study of history, as my colleague and eminent historian Van Deursen likes to say, is to do justice to the dead, our fellow men, and at the same time to always be aware of the Biblical warning: you will be judged by the same measure. Historiography is not about blaming the past for our contemporary problems, nor about finding arguments there to bolster our political or religious plicies and philosophies. Nevertheless, everybody agrees that the knowledge of history is useful. A society without history is like an individual with loss of memory, walking like a blind person on unknown territory, doomed to fall step after step. Everybody also accepts that historical knowledge changes; history is a never ending debate, as Pieter Geyl has taught. So we do understand and accept that a ‘new’ South Africa needs a ‘new’ history. Is there a place in that new history for the Netherlands, for Dutch historiography, for the historians of the Vrije Universiteit (VU)?

In the old South Africa, there was a place for the Dutch historians, a modest but constructive place. Cape history cannot be studied without the Dutch archives, nor without knowledge and understanding of Dutch history, society and culture; the same holds for important aspects of the history of the Boer Republics and the history of Afrikaner religion and culture (literature etc.). Three generations of Afrikaner academic historians either originated from the Netherlands or had studied there – to start with the first generation: Godee Molsbergen and the Flemish Blommaert, and later Dirk Bax; next, the generation of J.P. van der Merwe, F.J. du Toit and F.A. van Jaarsveld, and then the third generation: Hermann Giliomee, Ben Liebenberg, Piet van der Schyff and Fransjohan Pretorius, to name but a few. All this means, additionally, that in the old South Africa there was a modest place for a small number of Dutch historians, as a promotor, colleague, or critic. And sometimes as a supplier of commemorative articles, such as VU historians A.A. van Schelven and H. Smitskamp in 1952 – and myself too, recently, publishing an article on the relations between Abraham Kuyper and president Paul Kruger in Die Kerkblad. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ A ‘New’ Literature

Mister Chair, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to speak at this important conference. I have been asked to tell you something about my own experience of teaching South African literature at Dutch universities, but also to give an indication of what South African literature departments might be expecting from the Vrije Universiteit (VU) and other Dutch universities at this point in time. This I do as someone who is South African born and bred and who taught at a South African university for 16 years. Every year I go back to South Africa at least once and I have many friends who are also colleagues in Afrikaans and Nederlands departments in South Africa. For various reasons they are suffering severe cutbacks. In the Humanities Faculties at Dutch universities a similar pinch is being felt.

What strategies should be developed in beleaguered times? In searching for an answer I would like to draw our attention for a minute to the rich tradition of so-called extra muros departments of Dutch all over the world: Barcelona, Budapest, Goa, Helsinki, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Jerusalem, London, Los Angeles, Münster, Oldenburg, Olomouc, Oporto, Oslo, Paris, Stellenbosch, Semarang, Strasburg, St Petersburg, Vienna – to name but a few cities where Dutch literature is taught. The differentiating terms intra muros (which refers to the universities in the ‘centre’ – the Netherlands and Belgium) and extra muros (the term refers to the universities outside the walls of the centre; on the ‘margins’) are soundly entrenched in the workings of the Society of Netherlandic Studies. The same has recently become true for the teaching of South African literature. English literature by authors such as Coetzee and Fugard has of course been part of English colonial curricula for many years and I will mainly focus on the new post-apartheid status of Afrikaans literature. It is taught intra muros at South African universities of course and since 1990 extra muros in many different countries all over the world: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the USA, Austria, Germany, Russia, Belgium and the Netherlands, to name but a few.

My reference to muros, to walls, has inspired my thinking along Trojan horse lines. I believe that we must be innovative in schemes to get inside the walls of learning but once we are there, to look out again, over the wall, to enable us to invite each other in, so that in the end there are no walls any more. Let me now say something about the linguistic and academic relationship between Afrikaans and Dutch.

Afrikaans, as you know, is a maverick, a wayward daughter of 17th century Dutch. In South Africa the mother was held in high esteem during many years. When I was a student and lecturer at Stellenbosch and Wits, and even now still at many of the ten odd Afrikaans and Nederlands departments in South Africa, a fifty-fifty Dutch and Afrikaans literature course is offered. Afrikaans and Nederlands departments often advertise themselves as offering students a venster op Europa, a ‘room with a view on Europe’. The reverse situation never existed, and was practically unthinkable especially during the 1970s and 1980s. In the Netherlands of those years very few lecturers and even fewer students were interested in Afrikaans literature, or should I say, very few dared to be interested because of the cultural boycott against South Africa. There were a few exceptions. In some institutes of Comparative Literature, for example in Nijmegen, Hans Ester did his utmost to include Afrikaans literature in his courses. In Amsterdam a special chair of Afrikaans literature existed at the University of Amsterdam where professor N.P van Wyk Louw and his successors taught Afrikaans literature. These doctoraal lectures were, however, mainly attended by South Africans who came to study at the feet of the guru Louw. During the early 1980s the Dutch cultural and economic boycott of South Africa finally forced the Afrikaans section to close down. Read more

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