History of the SAMS

The South African Mathematical Society 1957 – 2007

P. Maritz, April 2009


The aim of this paper is to report on the activities of the South African Mathematical Society (SAMS) during the period 1957–2007, with the emphasis on its role in the fulfilment of the three objectives of the Society as stated in its First Constitution and its amended forms. Hence, the paper is divided into the following parts ― The promotion of:

I. The increase of mathematical knowledge;

II. The instruction of mathematical subjects;

III. The discipline of Mathematics.

The SAMS Archives in the UNISA Library, Pretoria, is reasonably complete for the period 1957 – 1988. Information about SAMS outside that period had to be gathered from various other sources.

Acknowledgements, for the supply of information:

Nigel Bishop, Chris Brink, Marié Coetzee (UNISA Library), Johann Engelbrecht, Barry Green, Wesley Kotzé, Louis Labuschagne, Johan Meyer, Thelma Neville ([1]), Ellie Olivier (SAMF), Jan Persens and Maritz Snyders.

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Before the institution of the South African Mathematical Association (SAMA, as SAMS was called then) in 1957, there had been attempts by mathematicians in South Africa to organise themselves into some form of association, but without success. For example, in 1951 and 1952, there were attempts to form a branch of the British Mathematical Association in South Africa [8; 10/3, 1978].

After a considerable amount of preliminary work by Dr HS Steyn, Head of the Mathematics Division, National Physics Research Laboratory, Institute of Physics of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria, and Dr Johann van der Mark of the same Division, the latter, in June 1957, sent out a circular to all relevant national institutions concerning the forming of a national mathematical association on 24 July 1957 in Pretoria [13(o)]. The reaction was positive and there were twenty-one persons present at the meeting in Pretoria, while eight apologies were recorded. The founding members present were: Profs HJ Schutte, JH van der Merwe, PJ Zietsman, Drs HS Steyn, DJ Stoker, AP Burger, O Brune, D Livingstone, GL Isaacs, AJB Wiid, J van der Mark, Messrs AN van der Walt, GJ van Schalkwyk, F Grobbelaar, NJ van Warmelo, NF Laubscher, DJ Hattingh, CW Cryer, NR Wood, B Stein and Miss AM Smith. Apologies were received from: Profs JM Hyslop, DB Sears, AP Malan, H Rund, J McKinnel, C Jacobsz, ET Stegman, B de Loor [13(o)]. Professor ET Stegmann of Stellenbosch apologised and applied for membership in a letter dated 16 July 1957, but he had died two days before the meeting was held [13(e)], [13(o)]. The Chairman at the founding meeting was Prof JH van der Merwe, while Dr J van der Mark acted as secretary. Of the names mentioned above, the following five were at some stage President of the South African Statistical Association (SASA, instituted in 1953): B de Loor (1953–56), HS Steyn (1960), AJB Wiid (1961), DJ Stoker (1964) and NF Laubscher (1973). In November 2007, three of the founding members were known to be still alive: GN Isaacs (Florida, USA),  HS Steyn and PJ Zietsman. Subsequently it was discovered in April 2013 that NF Laubscher was also still alive and practicing as a consulting statistician. Dr Steyn resigned as member in 1979 ([13(f); 23/03/1979]), and in 2007, Prof Zietsman resigned as emeritus member due to ill health [8; 38/3, 2007]. They were all invited to attend the 50th Anniversary of SAMS at the University of Cape Town in November 2007, but unfortunately, no one was able to accept [8; 38/3, 2007].

At the foundation meeting in 1957, Prof HJ (Hennie) Schutte proposed that a Mathematical Association should be established. The proposal was accepted unanimously. The possibility of the publishing of an own journal was already mentioned at that meeting. The consensus was, however, that such a possibility should first be investigated thoroughly. The elected Council for the period 1957–58 was: Prof JM Hyslop (University of the Witwatersrand, Wits), Chairman; Prof JH van der Merwe (University of South Africa, UNISA), Vice-Chairman; Dr J van der Mark (CSIR), Secretary/ Treasurer; the three additional members were Prof DB Sears (University of Cape Town, UCT), Dr D Livingstone (University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus) and Prof HJ Schutte (University of Potchefstroom for CHE) [13(e)]. It has generally been acknowledged that Dr Johann van der Mark was the driving force behind the inauguration of the SAMA.


James M Hyslop. (Courtesy of Thelma Neville [1])

During the period 1957–58, the Canadian Mathematical Congress offered postgraduate bursaries in terms of an interchange scheme between Canada and South Africa, initiated by Profs WLG Williams of the McGill University, Montreal, and H Rund of the University of Natal, Durban. The first responsibility of the first Council was to manage these bursaries, in pursuance of a proposal by Professor Rund [13(e)]. The first Constitution of 24 July 1957 was amended at the first Annual General Meeting (AGM), held on 27 October 1958 in Pietermaritzburg [13(i); 1958]. The items in italics below are the amendments to the first Constitution that were made at the 1958-meeting [13(d)].

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.

Office Bearers: The Office Bearers shall be as follows: Chairman, Vice-chairman, Secretary and Treasurer or Secretary/Treasurer. There shall also be a Council consisting of these officers and three other members of the Association. In addition representatives of duly appointed branches may be co-opted by the Council. All these shall hold office for one calendar year, but may be re-elected on the completion of their terms of office. Election of Officers and Council shall take place at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Association. Candidates for election shall be nominated by two full members who shall guarantee that the candidate will accept if elected. The newly appointed Council shall take office immediately after the Annual Congress if the Congress is held during October otherwise it shall take office on the 1st November. Any Council Member who is unable to attend a Council Meeting may appoint a full member of the Association to attend in his/her place, in which case such a member will enjoy all privileges of a Council Member for the duration of the meeting. Three members of the Council shall constitute a quorum.

Membership: There shall be three classes of membership:

(i) full membership; (ii) associate membership; (iii) institutional membership.

Meetings of the Association: A General Meeting shall be called once a year. The Association shall endeavour to hold a Congress once per year at different centres in the Union of South Africa in rotation. Decisions shall be taken only at the General Meetings. Notice shall be given to all members 30 days before the date fixed for a General Meeting. At all meetings the voting members present shall constitute a quorum.

Branches of the Association: Any local group or society having as its objects those of the South African Mathematical Association may be recognised as a branch of the Mathematical Association. Before any society will be admitted as a branch of the Association it should submit a copy of its constitution to the Council of the Association. Membership of any recognised branch shall be limited to those who are members of the Association. The aim of each recognised branch should be to hold at least three meetings per year and the Secretary/Treasurer of each such branch is required to submit written reports of these meetings to the Secretary of the Council of the Association. The Secretary/Treasurer of each recognised branch shall remit all membership fees received by him to the Treasurer of the Council of the Association. The Council may, at its discretion make monetary grants to the Committees of recognised branches to defray any necessary expenses incurred.

Admission of Members: All applications for membership shall be submitted on a form which is obtainable from the Secretary. Where possible applicants should be sponsored by two full members. Applications will be investigated by the Council who will then decide on the appropriate class of membership for the applicant. Institutions or organisations may become members of the Association by applying to the Secretary. The organisations may then nominate someone to represent them in the Association. An Associate Member may be proposed for full membership by any two full members.

Expulsion of Members: The Council has the power to expel members because of non-payment of dues. If the Council recommends the expulsion of a member for other reasons, the recommendation shall be referred to full members of the Association, to be voted on by postal ballot. The resolution then takes effect if approved by three quarters of those members voting.

Powers of the Council:

(i) It shall have the authority to elect and expel members in conformity with the constitution;

(ii) It shall have the power to enter into such contracts as may be necessary for the carrying out of the objects and business of the Association;

(iii) It shall decide all questions concerning cooperation with other organisations;

(iv) It may recommend amendments to the constitution;

(v) It may frame by-laws for the conduct of the business of the Association and the management of its affairs. Such by-laws may at any time be added to, amended or rescinded by the Council;

(vi) It shall administer the Association’s funds.

Privileges of Members: Only full members and institutional members have voting power. Only full members may become members of the Council.

Alterations of the Constitution: Alterations shall be proposed by any full member, seconded by any two full members. Members shall submit any proposed alterations to the Secretary at least two months before the AGM. At least one month before the AGM an agenda shall be sent to all full members. This agenda shall also contain all the alterations to the constitution proposed by the Council. Proposed alterations will be debated at the AGM even if the proposer and/or his seconders are not able to attend. All full members will then receive ballot papers describing the proposed alterations which they must fill in and return to the Secretary by a given date. A two-thirds majority of the papers received by the given date will be decisive. The Council will appoint at least two members to count the votes. The result of the voting will be communicated to all members by special circular.

Financial matters: Initial annual membership fees shall be as follows: full members ₤1 (one pound sterling); associate membership: 5/- (five shillings); institutional membership: ₤5. Alterations to the fees shall be made at the General Meeting on the proposal of the Council after members have been duly notified. The Association’s funds will be banked and cheques should be made payable to ‘The South African Mathematical Association’. Cheques drawn by the Association shall be signed by two of the officers.

Dissolution of the Association: In the event of the Association being dissolved, all its assets shall be donated to a South African Association which in the opinion of the Council has aims which conform most closely to those of the South African Mathematical Association.

The 1958-Constitution was amended in 1967, 1971, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1991, 1997 and in 2004, but the Objectives of the Society remained intact [8; 12/3, 1980].

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Initially, the requirement for full membership was a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent qualification, but any interested person might qualify for associate membership [13(n)]. That was an invitation for teachers to join the Association. With the amendment of 1971, full membership was offered to the three remaining associate members [13(f); 19/10/1970]. Only one accepted this offer [13(f); 15/05/1971]. A new Constitution was proposed by Council at the AGM of 30 October 1984 with only a few minor changes from the previous one [8; 16/3, 1984], [8; 17/1, 1985]. The amendment of 1986 dealt with the incorporation of the ‘Immediate Past President’ into the circle of the Office Bearers, and also with a new definition of Council of the Society: The Council of the Society shall consist of the Office Bearers and three Ordinary Council Members, plus such co-opted Council Members as the aforementioned Office Bearers and Ordinary Council Members may jointly co-opt to the Council [8; 18/2, 1986]. In 1991, the Constitution was amended by postal vote – Section 3 of the Constitution ‘Objectives of the Society’ was amended by adding the following item: (3) the general promotion of the discipline of Mathematics, as described in the Mission Statement, appended to this Constitution [8; 23/2, 1991]. The requirement for full membership was amended a few times. During the major part of the 1970-80s, the requirement was an honours degree in a mathematical science, or a qualification deemed to be equivalent thereto by the Council. The 1997-Constitution stipulated that membership was open to any person with a tertiary qualification in a mathematical discipline (that is, Level 5 or higher on the NQF). According to the 2004-Constitution (the most recent one), full membership is open to any person who holds a tertiary qualification, usually a bachelor’s degree, in a mathematical discipline and Council may grant, in special cases, membership to persons not meeting this qualification; see Appendix 8. In 1971, by means of ballot forms, the following alteration was made to the Constitution: That an emeritus membership be instituted and that Council shall have the right to offer this membership to any person it sees fit. While an emeritus member shall pay no dues, any other privileges shall be decided upon by Council. Furthermore, it is proposed that a student membership be instituted and that student members shall not have the vote. Council will stipulate the privileges of student members. Finally, it is proposed that the type ‘associate member’ be abolished with the understanding that present associate members may stay on in that capacity. In 1971, Dr P Armsen and Professor J McKinnel became the first two emeritus members. There were four student members then.

The initial annual membership fees were as follows: full members ₤1 (one pound sterling); associate membership 5/- (five shillings), and institutional membership ₤5. The membership fees for 1969 for full members were increased from R2 to R5, to R10 in 1977, to R25 in 1989, to R100 in 1996, to R210 in 2007 and to R240 in 2009. In 1971, the membership fees for student members were fixed at R1, and R50 for institutional members; in 2009 the respective amounts are R80 and R480 [8; 39/3, 2008]. In 1982, Council decided to offer institutional members the opportunity to distribute suitable advertising material free of charge in each edition of Notices [8; 14/1, 1982]. Appendix 7 gives an indication of the membership numbers in the various categories over the years. In 1972, Council decided to launch a large scale campaign to recruit more institutional members. Letters of invitation were sent to about 69 companies and institutions [13(f); 22/04/1972]. Only 15 companies decided to join [13(f); 22/10/1973].

In 1977, Council recommended the introduction of a foreign membership to the SAMS, similar to the AMS membership [8; 9/3, 1977]. Admission to foreign membership would be considered for any applicant working outside South Africa and with at least an honours degree (or equivalent) in a mathematical science. This new category of membership was approved by postal vote in 1978 [8; 10/1, 1978]. The membership fee was 2/3 of that of a full member, foreign members would not have the right to vote at general meetings or by postal ballot, but they received the publications of the Society. This category disappeared with the 1997-Constitution when foreign members became full members (only to be implemented in the year 2000 due to administrative problems). A new category of honorary membership was proposed in 1980 and approved by postal vote in 1981. At the SAMS Council meeting of 14 March 1980, the Secretary, Dr DP Laurie, reported that all members of the Editorial Board of Quaestiones Mathematicae had accepted honorary foreign membership with profuse expressions of gratitude [13(f); 14/03/1980]. A new category of special membership was implemented in 2001, but it was only described in the 2004-Constitution, see Appendix 8, clause 7.2. In 1990, SAMS embarked on the planning of a campaign to increase the number of members, and in particular, institutional members. Prof Johann Engelbrecht (University of Pretoria) was involved in this effort, and in fact succeeded to increase the institutional membership from 15 in 1990 to 20 in 1995, see Appendix 7. This was done by convincing firms in industry and commerce of the benefits of institutional membership and to involve them in our society along those lines. Unfortunately, this category of membership drastically decreased to 7 in the year 2007, and to 4 in 2008.

It is clear from the minutes of the Foundation Meeting and the first Constitution that the Association wanted to achieve its goals by the holding of congresses, the organising of symposia and lectures, and by means of own publications [13(e)].

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