“On behalf of government and all our people, we wish to convey our deepest condolences to his family and the whole of the academic community,” Zuma said in a statement.
The university said Russel Botman died in his sleep at his home in Stellenbosch on Friday night.
Zuma said Russel Botman, who became the first black South African rector and vice-chancellor of the university in 2002, was one of the pioneers of transformation in higher education in the country.
“South Africa has lost one of the leading lights of our higher education transformation,” said Zuma.
Higher Education SA (HESA) on Sunday also praised Russel Botman for his contribution to higher education in the country.
“Professor Russel Botman displayed courage, patience and determination in seeking solutions to many of his university’s most difficult challenges,” HESA interim chairman Max Price said in a statement.
Russel Botman, who served on the board of HESA and was on the executive committee for four years, had “left his mark on the national higher education landscape,” said Price.
“Professor Russel Botman challenged those around him with a particular commitment to increasing universities’ access to communities previously excluded from higher education, to supporting emerging researchers and to promoting the idea that the resources within universities should be harnessed to promote the well-being of communities they serve.
“Under his leadership, Stellenbosch University has grown in stature locally and internationally,” said Price.