Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture

Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture

The Hendrik van der Bijl Memeorial Lecture is presented jointly by the SAAE and the University of Pretoria . The 51st lecture in the series was presented by Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Project Director of the Square Kilometre Array, at the University of Pretoria on 17 June 2015. The subject, The square kilometre array – Helping to bring South Africa and Africa into the knowledge economy, generated wide interest and the lecture was very well attended.

Dr Hendrik van der Bijl
The Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture is delivered annually by a leading personality under the general theme of the role of engineering in society. It is arranged under the auspices of the South African Academy of Engineering and the University of Pretoria (of which Dr Van der Bijl was Chancellor from 1934 to 1948) to commemorate the great contribution he made to the industrial and scientific development of South Africa. The first Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture was delivered in 1963 by Dr M S Louw and since then the lecture was delivered by many eminent persons who have made their mark in South Africa. (See attached list.)

Hendrik van der Bijl
(1887 – 1948)

Hendrik van der Bijl was born in Pretoria in 1887 and attended school in the Cape Province during the Anglo Boer War. After studying at the Victoria College in Stellenbosch, he continued his studies in Physics in Germany and obtained his Ph.D degree at the University of Leipzig, specializing in Electronics. His successful research lead to an appointment as Instructor of Physics in Dresden in 1912 and soon thereafter he was invited to join the American Telegraph and Telephone Co. in New York where he became one of a selected group of research scientists that spearheaded American technological development. In answer to a call by General Smuts, Van der Bijl returned to South Africa in 1920 as Technical Adviser to the South African Government and in the second quarter of the twentieth century he laid the foundations for the development of the South African industry. After studying the economic conditions in the country, he concluded that cheap electric power, cheap steel and financial and technical assistance to the developing industries were prerequisites to further development. This lead to him being the architect and Chairman of Escom, Iscor and the Industrial Development Corporation. Then followed an association of Iscor with private enterprise, in Amcor, for the beneficiation of South Africa’s base minerals and in Van der Bijl Engineering for the establishment of a heavy engineering industry.

During the second world war Hendrik van der Bijl was appointed first as Director General of War Supplies and later as Director General of Supplies. His outstanding organizing ability and his leadership qualities enabled him to use this opportunity to stimulate and direct this into the second stage of rapid industrial development in South Africa. In later years Dr Van der Bijl turned his attention to the private sector of the economy. One outcome of this was the establishment in 1947 of Safmarine, of which he was the first Chairman. The foundations for the industrial development of South Africa were laid by Hendrik van der Bijl the scientist, industrial leader, engineer and entrepreneur. His achievements have been recognized internationally and locally. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and he received honorary degrees from both the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Witwatersrand. The Hendrik van der Bijl lecture is delivered by a leading personality under the general theme of the role of engineering in society.


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