Few families can claim an historical bond with Stellenbosch University as long and strong as that fostered by the Roos dynasty. Four generations of the family have studied at the university since the nineteenth century and five generations of the clan have supported students at Maties through full and partial bursaries for almost a hundred years.
Since 1987, when Gideon Roos Snr renewed a philanthropic relationship that had been initiated by his grandfather almost 70 years earlier, the family has sought to provide financial support to science, law and music students at the university – offering the scholars the opportunities for success that successive members of the Roos family have themselves enjoyed.
The bursary fund provided by the family was renewed 40 years ago after Gideon Roos Snr was shocked to discover that the endowment, which had been established by his grandfather in memory of his brother, no longer existed as a stand-alone fund after its capital base had eroded over the decades, forcing the university to combine it with other relatively small donations.
Roos, who had graduated with a law degree from Stellenbosch in 1930, was determined to revive the family’s support for students in need and established a new trust to provide bursaries.
In recent years, one-third of the money from the bursary fund has been allocated to support science and law students; one-third has been used to subsidise a music bursary established in honour of Gideon Roos Snr’s wife, the singer and actress Esther Mentz; and one-third has been dedicated to support scholars from the Paul Roos Gymnasium in town.
The deserving law, music and social science students are chosen by the university; while Paul Roos Gymnasium, which is named after the father of the trust’s founder and its one-time rector – former Springbok captain, Paul Roos – selects the deserving scholars.
The fund has evolved over the years and expanded to further areas of support but Stellenbosch University has remained its focus.
The trust’s founder, who became director-general of the South African state broadcaster now known as the SABC, attributed many of what he later achieved to the full Rhodes scholarship from Oxford University that he was granted to complete his postgraduate studies. In establishing the bursary fund, he sought to create similar opportunities for students in need of financial assistance to further their studies.
After Gideon Snr’s death in 1999, the fund was managed by his two sons, Gideon Jnr and Paul, and two independent trustees, before they too died, in 2014 and 2017 respectively, and their sons, in turn, joined as trustees. The accession of a new generation of the Roos family to the board has sparked further renewal of the fund’s focus and purpose.
Until recently, its support was dispersed through a relatively large number of smaller donations. Although the education of many students was subsidised, they each received only a relatively small contribution to their financial needs. Accordingly, the trustees decided that, from the next academic year and in line with the original wishes of Gideon Roos Snr, the allocations from the fund should rather be used to provide a full bursary to qualifying students.
In other words, although fewer bursaries will be awarded, they will cover all the costs associated with the fields of study for the selected academically deserving students in financial need. These will be selected by the university in the fields of law, music and agricultural science.
“The future of the bursary fund will thus be to have a greater impact on selected students’ lives by creating similar opportunities to those that Gideon Roos experienced in 1934 when he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship [to study at Oxford University),” said Maties alumnus and bursary fund trustee Faans Roos, who is the son of Gideon Roos Jnr.
According to Karen Bruns, Senior Director: Development and Alumni Relations, many students’ lives have been changed through the generosity of the Roos family. "We are grateful for the support we have received from the Gideon Roos Bursary Fund and look forward to continuing our partnership."