The South African Mathematical Society

Founded in 1957

The South African Mathematical Society, also known by its Afrikaans name 'Die Suid-Afrikaanse Wiskundige Vereniging', was founded on 24 July 1957 although at that time it was named 'The South African Mathematical Association'. The Society:-
... is a national association of mathematicians, conscious of its African and international context as it seeks to promote the discipline of mathematics in all its facets, locally, regionally and internationally. It is committed to high standards of excellence in the learning, teaching and research of the discipline and will strive to explore the applications of mathematics in addressing the needs of the South African society.
Attempts had been made in 1951 and 1952 to found a South African mathematical society but these were not successful. The people who led the way in founding the Society in 1957 were Hendrik Stefanus Steyn and Johann van der Mark. Hendrik Steyn, who had gained a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Edinburgh in 1947 for his thesis On Multivariate Sampling With and Without Replacement supervised by Alex Aitken, had been appointed to the Statistics Department in the University of Pretoria in 1949. He became Head of the Mathematics Division of the National Physics Research Laboratory, Institute of Physics of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria. Johann van der Mark was also in the National Physics Research Laboratory in Pretoria and he sent out a circular around all relevant South African institutions asking all those interested in forming a mathematical society to attend a meeting in Pretoria on 24 July 1957. Twenty one people attended the meeting: H J Schutte, J H van der Merwe, P J Zietsman, H S Steyn, D J Stoker, A P Burger, O Brune, D Livingstone, G L Isaacs, A J B Wiid, J van der Mark, A N van der Walt, G J van Schalkwyk, F Grobbelaar, N J van Warmelo, N F Laubscher, D J Hattingh, C W Cryer, N R Wood, B Stein and A M Smith. Eight people sent a message indicating their support to the meeing but said that unfortunately they were unable to attend. They were J M Hyslop, D B Sears, A P Malan, H Rund, J McKinnel, C Jacobsz, E T Stegman, and B de Loor.

At this meeting Hennie Schutte proposed that a Mathematical Association should be established and the proposal was accepted unanimously. A proposal that they should publish a journal was approved in general but it was felt that they should investigate this further before committing themselves. A Council was elected at the meeting with James Hyslop as chairman, Johannes Hendrick van der Merwe as vice-chairman, and J van der Mark to serve both as secretary and treasurer. A constitution was approved which began as follows:

Name: The English name of the Association is 'The South African Mathematical Association', and in Afrikaans, 'Die Suid-Afrikaanse Wiskundige Vereniging'.

Objects: The objects of the Association shall be to promote in South Africa
(1) the increase and dissemination of mathematical knowledge,

(2) the instruction of Mathematics at all levels.
Meetings of the Association: A General Meeting shall be called once a year.

The first Annual General Meeting was held on 27 October 1958 in Pietermaritzburg. Among the amendments made to the Constitution at this meeting was the addition of the clause "The Association shall endeavour to hold a Congress once per year at different centres in the Union of South Africa in rotation."

In 1967 the name was changed from 'The South African Mathematical Association' to the present 'The South African Mathematical Society'. The Society grew steadily in size from a total of 73 members in 1957 to 218 in 1977 and in 1993 there were over 300 full members. There were, of course, problems for the Society caused by the apartheid policies of the South African Government. There was nothing in the Constitution of the Society which might look like discrimination but many international mathematicians invited to lecture to the Society refused to travel to South Africa. Reciprocity arrangements with other societies also ran into problems. The American Mathematical Society agreed a reciprocity arrangement in 1972 after ensuring that the South African Society had no discriminatory rules but, after protests, they cancelled the agreement in 1974. One mathematician who did visit South Africa after an invitation from the South African Mathematical Society was Peter Hilton. He wrote [1]:-
Towards the end of 1978 I was approached by the South African Mathematical Society about the possibility of making a lecture tour in South Africa in the summer of 1981. There ensued a series of involved and somewhat delicate negotiations designed, on my part, to ensure that such a visit would take place under conditions which would satisfy my scruples. In a letter published in the American Mathematical Society Notices, I explained that these conditions would enable me to visit all the universities of South Africa and to speak freely with faculty and students of all races.
Hilton told about his experiences, writing in [1]:-
Apartheid is a monstrous system, pursued by the South African government with relentless determination and lunatic logic. However, it is opposed by very many people concerned with education at all levels, from university professors to dedicated whites endeavouring to raise the quality of education in Soweto. I found no mathematicians to defend the system, though some offered excuses and extenuation. Such dire events as the treatment of the Nyanga squatters by the government and police clearly caused the whites acute embarrassment and, in many cases, deep distress. But even such treatment was defended, or rather excused, and the government's actions explained in terms of the 'universal threat' of Soviet subversion.
However, he also explains why he went to South Africa [1]:-
A two-month visit does not make me an expert on South Africa, but I must record my belief that current policy among western intellectuals is mistaken. I believe that the policy of boycott is hurting the very people we want to help by encouraging the 'laager' mentality which ignores world opinion and concentrates on what it sees as the crucial issue of short-term survival. The constitutions of both the South African Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of South Africa specifically exclude any racial (or sex) bias. I advocate that we restore close relations with those organizations and their members in order to help them fight for equal educational opportunities for all the people of South Africa.
The Society publishes the journal Quaestiones Mathematicae as well as the Notices of the South African Mathematical Society. It also organises an annual congress and makes a number of awards. We now give some details of these.

The journal Quaestiones Mathematicae began publication in 1976. Its aims and scope are given as follows [3]:
Quaestiones Mathematicae is devoted to research articles from a wide range of mathematical areas. Longer expository papers of exceptional quality are also considered. Published in English, the journal receives contributions from authors around the globe and serves as an important reference source for anyone interested in mathematics.
The Notices of the South African Mathematical Society began publishing in 1969 with Niko Sauer as editor. The Notices, which now is published with three parts per year, contains items of general interest to members of the Society, including inaugural lectures, abstracts of unpublished research, bibliographic details of departmental publications and accepted theses, news of personnel movements and conference announcements.

The first Congress of the Association in 1958 in Pietermaritzburg consisted of a Council Meeting, three plenary lectures of one hour each by Professors Hyslop, Isaacs and Van der Merwe, seven short lectures of thirty minutes each, an AGM on the Monday evening attended by 27 members, followed by a popular lecture by Prof D B Sears. A Congress has been held every year since then with the 50th being held at the University of Cape Town, 31 October - 2 November 2007.

From the time the Society was founded until 1984, the Society had a Chairman, but after 1984 the Chairman was renamed the President.

1957-1959 J M Hyslop
1959-1961 J H van der Merwe
1961-1963 A P Burger
1963-1965 H J Schutte
1965-1967 H Rund
1967-1969 K O Househam
1969-1971 J H van der Merwe
1971-1973 H J Schutte
1973-1975 A P Burger
1975-1977 H S P Grässer
1977-1979 G J Hauptfleisch
1979-1981 D H Jacobson
1981-1983 K A Hardie
1983-1984 N Sauer
1984-1985 N Sauer
1985-1986 D H Martin
1986-1987 A P J van der Walt
1987-1988 J Swart
1988-1989 R I Becker
1989-1990 J J Grobler
1990-1991 A R Meijer
1991-1993 W J Kotzé
1993-1995 C H Brink
1995-1997 N Sauer
1997-1999 J Persens
1999-2001 T G Schultz
2001-2003 E Brüning
2003-2007 N T Bishop
2007-2015 H Siweya
2015- Kerstin Jordaan

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. P Hilton, Reflections on a visit to South Africa, Focus 1 (4) (1981), 1-2.
  2. W J Kotzé, A brief history of QM at its 25th anniversary, Quaestiones Mathematicae 25 (1) 2002, iii-iv.
  3. P Maritz, The South African Mathematical Society 1957- 2007, South African Mathematical Society (January 2009).

Last Updated February 2018