Professor Richard van der Ross, second from right, leads a march at UWC. Van der Ross was a teacher, activist and scholar of coloured heritage. He died yesterday at age 96.
Professor Richard van der Ross, second from right, leads a march at UWC. Van der Ross was a teacher, activist and scholar of coloured heritage. He died yesterday at age 96.

Former UWC rector's death a loss to city

By Jason Felix Time of article published Dec 14, 2017

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Cape Town - Tributes have been pouring in for professor Richard van der Ross who died at age 96 on Wednesday.

Mayor Patricia de Lille paid tribute to Van der Ross and described him as “a great son of Cape Town who made an immense contribution to the city as a teacher and activist during apartheid”.

Van der Ross was awarded the freedom of the city in 1988. He shares the city council’s honour with the late former president Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the late Struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada.

“This is a great loss to the city and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his two children Ben van der Ross and Freda Brock and his seven grandchildren family and friends,” De Lille said.

Van der Ross was born in 1921 and studied at UCT where he received MA BEd and PhD degrees. In 1961 he was one of the leaders of the coloured “convention” movement.

He advocated contact with African groups while calling for organisation among coloureds so they could co-operate as respected allies.

He was the first editor of the Cape Herald, which at the time was a newspaper for coloured people.

He was also rector of the University of the Western Cape. Last year he published In Our Own Skins: A Political History of the Coloured People.

In the foreword of his book Van der Ross said that while anyone who wrote history should expect criticism “for tracing the history of the coloured people, I make no apology”.

In an interview at his Bergvliet home he told Weekend Argus: “I am coloured and I will say it and sing it and talk it.”

He advocated contact with African groups while calling for organisation among coloureds so they could cooperate as respected allies.

According to SA History Online, Van der Ross was discouraged by the futility of opposition to the basic direction of the government’s policy and argued that apartheid should be opposed and demands made within this framework.

In 1966 he took part in establishing and became the first president of the Labour Party of South Africa. He resigned in 1967 to become an assistant education planner in the Department of Coloured Affairs.

Tyrone Pretorius, rector and vice-chancellor of UWC said Van der Ross would be remembered for his role as a social rights and political activist.

“Professor Van der Ross is a man whose contributions to South Africa - and especially to South African higher education - cannot be overstated,” Pretorius said. “He helped the university navigate a period of political turmoil and social upheaval. He helped us define who we were, what we wanted to be, what we stood for. And he set a truly inspirational example, demonstrating great courage and conviction by always standing up for what he believed in, while respecting the rights of others to do the same."

Danny Titus, formerly of the SA Human Rights Commissioner, said Van der Ross contributed to the shaping of UWC. “He was my rector when I was still studying in the difficult and dark days of our country. I had the opportunity to interact with him and his passion for his people was clear. He also had a great passion for education and left a lasting legacy in his community and the UWC."

Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA spokesperson, said: “Rest in peace Professor Richard van der Ross. Your legacy as an academic, vice-chancellor and activist will be forever treasured.”

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