100 years old and rising

On 29 August 2018 the VRS turned 100 years old and marked the attainment of this memorable milestone with a series of celebratory functions in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg. In the very same building (originally the South African Library and now the Cape Town campus of the National Library of South Africa) in which our Society was founded in 1918 an exhibition was opened on our birthday by Najwa Hendrickse, Principal Librarian and Manager of Information Access at the Library. It showed in graphic fashion how the Society has been turning rare and often illegible documents into meticulously edited hardcover volumes for 100 years, and thereby comprehensively captured the attention of those present through its imaginative selection of original manuscripts, printed texts and reviews. The exhibition will remain open until March 2019; appropriately, given our distinctive red dustjackets, it is located in the Library’s Red Space.

From the Library itself members and friends moved up the road to the Library’s gracious Centre for the Book for a buffet supper and a diverse but well-orchestrated programme of music, words (notably a witty and wise centenary address by Professor Bill Nasson), images, a light-hearted quiz about the Society and a series of dramatic readings by lamplight from six of our volumes. As one member put it afterwards, ‘The Society’s record over 100 years is more than worth celebrating, and we did it in spirited style. I enjoyed myself enormously. Fabulous building. Beautiful décor, great company. 100 thank yous.’ About 170 people joined in the occasion. A video of highlights of the evening can be viewed at: http://www.vanriebeecksociety.co.za/Centenary.htm

The celebrations held at Pretoria University and the University of Johannesburg in October were especially notable for the way in which they drew those universities’ students into the events. Several read with passion extracts from one of our 100 volumes and explained why they found them so appealing, while others drew on the willingly-given knowledge of older members of the Society to answer quiz questions about our history and so win the accompanying prizes. The keynote speaker, Professor Archie Dick of Pretoria University, praised the Society’s publishing record in its first century and then proceeded to throw out some challenges for us to take on in our second century.

Centenary Fund

As you will recall, earlier this year we launched an appeal for donations to a Centenary Fund to provide us with a solid financial foundation for our next 100 years, 2018-2118. We are happy to report that donations have now reached R567,000 and that the names of all donors to date appear in an appendix to our 100th volume, In a Time of Plague. Our sincere thanks to them all for their generosity. Further donations are, of course, welcome – we are keen to top R600,000 – so feel free to add to our fund. The names of new donors will be added to the already impressive list on our website (http://www.vanriebeecksociety.co.za/vrs_100_fund%20Donors.htm)

AGM and launch of our two 2018 volumes

Our AGM will be held at 17h30 on 31 January 2019 at Ravenswood House, 110 Hatfield Street, Cape Town, by courtesy of the owner, Patrick Esnouf, who is one of our staunchest supporters. For directions see the map below. Please RSVP by 17 January 2019. It will be followed at 19h00 by the launch of the two volumes which we produced in 2018 to bring the tally of volumes which we have published in our 100-year history to 100, viz. Hendrik Swellengrebel in Africa: Journals of Three Journeys in 1776-1777 (edited by Gerrit Schutte) and In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa (edited by Howard Phillips). We acknowledge with gratitude generous donations from the following which assisted us to publish these two volumes: Fonds Neerlandistiek, the Historical Society of Cape Town, the Van Ewijck Foundation, the Frank Bradlow Memorial Trust, Professor Gerrit Schutte, the Gravin van Bylandt Stichting, the J.E. Jurriaanse Stichting and the Gilles Hondius Foundation. If you have paid your 2018 subscription of R275, both volumes will have automatically been sent to you – the second volume is the Society’s free gift to you to mark our centenary. If both volumes have not reached you by the end of December 2018, please contact us.

If you are not able to join us for the launch on 31 January, you are most welcome to attend two additional launches in January. The first will be at the UCT Summer School, at 13h00 on 17 January 2019 in the Kramer Law Building on UCT’s Middle Campus and the second at 19h00 on 28 January 2019 at the Montagu Museum.

Directions from Southern Suburbs: take the M3 (De Waal Drive/Philip Kgosana Drive) to traffic lights a little before the entrance to the Mount Nelson Hotel. At the traffic lights (where there is an Engen garage) turn right into Hatfield Street. Ravenswood House is about 100 metres down the road on the left.

Directions from central city: drive up Plein Street towards the mountain, cross Roeland Street (where Plein Street becomes St. John’s Street), pass St. Mary’s Cathedral on the left and then (about 400 metres further on) the Jewish Museum and the Great Synagogue on the right. At this point St. John’s Street becomes Hatfield Street. Continue towards the mountain to near the top of Hatfield Street; Ravenswood House is on the right. Parking is available in and around Hatfield Street, and also on the grounds of Cape Town High School which is next door to Ravenswood House. The gate at the school grounds will be open at 16h00 on the day.

UCT Summer School

The annual Summer School arranged by the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Extra-Mural Studies will take place from 7 to 25 January 2019. The Summer School is a public education programme that offers a range of short courses, open to all regardless of educational qualifications. This year there are two courses which will be of particular interest to our members  since the subject matter is the same as that of two of our forthcoming publications. The courses will be given by the editors of our volumes.


Emeritus Professor Howard Phillips, Professor Ed Rybicki, head, Biopharming Research Unit, Dr Ziyaad Valley Omar, Division of Medical Virology, University of Cape Town

Towards the end of World War One the world was struck by the worst pandemic in modern history, the so-called ‘Spanish’ flu, which killed some 50 million people around the globe in under a year, i.e. 2 to 3% of the Earth’s population. This course of five lectures, given by one historian and two virologists, will examine the catastrophe through both an international and a South African lens, focusing on the pandemic’s origin, its transmission, its dire immediate effect and its long-term consequences. The last lecture will look at epidemic influenza outbreaks since 1918 up until today and consider whether another such influenza-driven disaster is in prospect.


Dr Brian Willan, senior research associate, Rhodes University Institute for the Study of English in Africa

This course will introduce the life and work of Sol T. Plaatje (1876–1932), one of South Africa’s most celebrated political and literary figures. Plaatje is best known as a pioneering journalist, for his role in the early years of the South African Native National Congress (forerunner of today’s ANC), his campaign against the Natives Land Act of 1913, his Mafikeng siege diary and his books, Native Life in South Africa and the historical novel Mhudi.

For more information and booking download the full 2019 UCT Summer School programme at http://www.summerschool.uct.ac.za/sites/default/files/image_tool/images/4/2019SummerSchool/2019%20SS%20brochure%20for%20web.pdf

or contact Bronwyn Geldenhuys at ems@uct.ac.za


In Memoriam

We regret to announce the deaths of the following members: Mr R Blackburn, Prof J C de Villiers, Ms P Jansen van Rensburg, Mrs E J Kuyper, Mr A Michalowsky, Mr J Nauta, Mr A Pitlo, Mr P R Retief, Mev M L Roux, Mr L H G Shuttleworth, Dr E J van der Wat, Mrs E M Watson, Mr L E H Wood.


New members

We are delighted to welcome the following as new members:  Mnr M Brits (Lydenburg), Prof W A M Carstens (Noordbrug), Mr D Crabtree (Greyton), Mr J J Dannhauser (Parys), Mnr J Delport (Kirkwood), Mnr D de Villiers (Bellville), Mnr M J de Villiers (Caledon), Mnr T de Wet (Epsom Downs), Prof A Dick (Centurion), Ms M du Plessis (Muizenberg), Mr R du Plooy (Boksburg), Mnr C J Engelbrecht (Vredendal), Mnr L Fick (Caledon), Prof J Field (Claremont), Mnr C Grobbelaar (Ceres), Ms A Heslop (Hermanus), Mnr H Heymann (Kaapstad), Mnr D Jacobs (Bellville), Adv A Joubert (Sandton), Prof E le Roux (Pretoria), Ms C McCrae (Big Bay), Prof W Mijnhardt (Utrecht, Nederland), Mr A Millard (Cramerview), Mr P Mohale (Cape Town), Ms B Morris (Adelaide, Australia), Ms L Muller (Newlands), Mr R Nel (Cape Town), Mnr Rudolf Oosthuizen (Robertson), Dr Bernie Radomsky (Cape Town), Mr A N Retief (Kroondal), Mr W Ruml (New York, USA), Mr F Schuitemaker (Observatory), Mr G J Schonken (Cape Town), Mr R F Shaw (Cape Town), Mnr D Streicher (Bredasdorp), Mnr H J Steyn (Swellendam), Mr G Thomas (Cape Town), Mnr J P van der Merwe (Bloemfontein), Mnr R van Niekerk (Port Elizabeth), Ms N van Reenen (Lotus River), Mnr J van Wyk (Upington), Dr F Vernal (Manchester CT, USA), Mnr T Visagie (Calvinia), Ms V West (Fish Hoek), Mr Donald Woodford (Montagu).

Office hours amended

As much of our administrative and financial work has moved online and is being carried out from home, the necessity of staffing the office every other day of the week has decreased. Therefore, from 1 January 2019 the office will be open only on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10h00 to 13h00. These amended hours will be in effect for a trial period of four months until 30 April 2019, after which we will review the decision. Of course, members may still contact us telephonically at any time and leave a message or send us an e-mail.

For very urgent matters out of office hours please contact Rolf Proske on 071 077 1672.