The story of the “Rooiplein”

The story of the “Rooiplein”

Those who studied at Maties before 1981 will know that the ‘rooiplein’ wasn’t always built on a library. The J.S. Gericke was only created in 1981 when the university’s previous two libraries became too small. The only place where the new library could be built centrally was underground.

Why was the library built under the ‘rooi plein’?

The library’s website explains this thinking process:

In 1926 the CL Marais Library had to be extended and by 1938 it had become clear that an entirely new line of thought was necessary. 

As early as 1912 the Scots-American millionaire Andrew Carnegie donated the sum of £6 000 towards the extension and maintenance of the library of the Victoria College. An additional donation of £1 500 from the Carnegie Corporation to the Stellenbosch University in 1938, as well as contributions from alumni enabled the University to build a new library

In 1938 the Carnegie building was erected on the site of the Pavillion rugby grounds, adjacent to and north of the present Administration building (Block B). This building would become the home of the University Library for the next 50 years. […]

Who was Mr Gericke?

The library’s website explains:

the next and present phase of the University Library, [was] the erection of the JS Gericke Library, named after the Reverend JS (Kosie) Gericke who served as Vice-chancellor of the University from 1952 to 1981. 

The construction of the JS Gericke Library building commenced in 1981 and in 1983 the move to the new building took place. This building occupies the unique position of being built underneath the centrally situated Jan Marais Square.

The reason for this unique position is that in planning a new library it was found that, apart from the Jan Marais Square, no centrally situated building sites were available on campus.

However, the historical importance of the Jan Marais Square and the architectural aesthetics of the historic buildings surrounding the square meant that this site could not be defaced with a multi-storeyed building. It was therefore decided to build underground.



Interesting fact The official name of the ‘Rooiplein’ is actually the Jan Marais square. But ‘Red Square’ is also the name of the main city square in Moscow, Russia. Apparently, Maties jokingly called the Administration Building the ‘Kremlin’ because the notice boards (where exam results and class marks were pinned up) would declare their fate as a students.



Here are some photos of the “Rooiplein” in different moments in time. Each caption will explain more about the square’s development.


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The Jan Marais Square around 1930. Notice how few buildings are still around the central campus and Merriman Street (Photo online).



A view of the “Rooiplein” in 1952. Along one side of the square there was a long pergola and patio, which was later demolished. The square was slightly lower than the rest of the buildings, as you can see from the stairs on the left. (Photo online).

A color photo of the “Rooiplein” when it had lawns. Here you can see what the verandas looked like, and how the lawns were watered by means of sprayers. Does anyone know what the small building (with red tile roof) behind Marais’s statue was? (Photo taken from the book “Stellenbosch 1866 – 1966 Honderd Jaar hoër Onderwys”, 1966).


An aerial view from the same year with the “Rooiplein” on the right. See how different Merriman Street appears without the double-storey apartment blocks that are there today. According to the photograph a power station was located in this street, near the historic ‘slave houses’ in Ryneveld Street. (Photo from Alice Mertens 1966 book, “Stellenbosch”).


Two lady students sit under a veranda on the “Rooiplein” with Jannie Marais’s statue in the background. (Photo: front page of the Matieland, Augustus 1957.)





“‘n Dromer” is a young Stellenbosser who loves writing about the everyday things that go unnoticed. She likes dusty books and seeing how the past isn’t always what it seems. She has written about Stellenbosch, it’s heritage and it’s people almost every week since 2015.


Article: Y Coetsee 2017
Mertens, A. (1966) Stellenbosch. Nasionale Boekhandel Bpk, Kaapstad.
Thom, H.B. (ed). Stellenbosch 1866 – 1966 Honder Jaar Hoër Onderwys. Nasionale Boekhandel Bpk, Kaapstad.
US biblioteek webtuiste. Available:
US argief, Matieland. Available:
US webtuiste. Available:

If you like our trivia about Stellenbosch history, read some of our other blogs here!

Where does the name Merriman Street come from?
Has Stellenbosch ever burned down?
What is the origin of the name Ryneveldstraat?

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