Willem Eliza Malherbe, educationist, was a son of Tielman Francois Malherbe and his wife Johanna Elizabeth, born Le Roux. He matriculated through the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1890. The next year he continued his studies at Victoria College, Stellenbosch, and was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA) by the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1894. At some time he studied also at the Normal College in Cape Town, where he presumably qualified as a teacher. Subsequently he went overseas to study at the University of Edinburgh, where he obtained a BSc degree. In 1898 he married Elizabeth Anna Maria Kriel, with whom he had eight children. He was the founder and first principal of the high school at Franschhoek.
Malherbe was an examiner for the University of the Cape of Good Hope for many years, namely in mathematics for the BA degree and the Survey Certificate from 1900 to 1905, the practical examinations in physics for the BA and BA Honours degrees in 1907, and physics for the BA Honours degree from 1915 to 1917. From 1909 to 1916 he was furthermore an assessor member of the university council's standing committee for science.
In January 1906 Malherbe was appointed professor of experimental physics (to 1909) and then professor of physics at Victoria College (from 1918 the University of Stellenbosch), a post he held until his retirement at the end of 1940. He wrote an introductory textbook of physics in Afrikaans, Beknopte leerboek oor die natuurkunde (Stellenbosch, 1922, 311p), but appears to have published little else in the natural sciences.
He was elected a member of the Zuid-Afrikaanse Akademie voor Taal, Letteren en Kunst in 1910. In 1917 he became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. He was one of the authors of the Gedenkboek van het Victoria-Kollege (Cape Town, 1918).