Friday 10 July 2020

In Memoriam: M. Elaine Botha

by Gideon Strauss

Belovéd of God, Elaine Botha (1938-2020) rests in peace and will rise in glory. She was a pioneering scholar, a wise mentor and a dear friend to many, and a brave voice for justice and love.

As a scholar Elaine worked primarily on metaphor and the philosophy of the social sciences, and made innovative contributions to her own Reformational tradition. She completed two doctorates at the beginning of the 1970s, one at the then Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education in her native South Africa, advised by C. N. Venter, and the other at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, advised by Hendrik Van Riessen and André Troost. She taught philosophy at the Potchefstroom University (1969 to 1995) and served as academic vice president (1995 to 2000) and director of the Dooyeweerd Centre (2000 to 2004) at Redeemer University in Canada. In 2005 she was a visiting scholar of the Center for Semiotics at Aarhus University in Denmark. She also taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Institute for Christian Studies.

Many people can attest to Elaine’s kindness and hospitality as a mentor and a friend. My own experience of her as a mentor and friend began in the early 1990s, when Elaine and Craig Bartholomew co-founded the Christian Worldview Network. The CWN brought together academics in the Reformational tradition, artists seeking a Christian imagination, and activists working with a Christian democratic vision for the political and societal transformation of apartheid South Africa. The CWN invited South Africans towards an integral vision of Christian life in its gatherings and with its magazine, The Big Picture, and continues to influence Christians making art in South Africa through its 1993 manifesto, Christians and the Arts in South Africa. But perhaps to the most enduring effect, the CWN served as a context in which many of us then in our twenties could enjoy the wise mentorship offered by Elaine.

Much of Elaine’s courage was practiced quietly and privately. In public life, she worked against the racism, misogyny, and patriarchy of Afrikaner Christian-nationalism for decades, not least so at the Potchefstroom University where she studied and taught. She was a signatory of the 1977 Koinonia Declaration, denying a biblical foundation to the racism of apartheid political theology, at a time and in a place where making such a public statement came with a considerable cost, both professionally and socially.

Late in life Elaine married Bob Goudzwaard, the Dutch Reformational economist and politician, with whom she retired in South Africa.

Along with Elaine’s friends, students, and colleagues I pray for her rest in the embrace of God and look forward to continuing our conversations in the world to come.