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The Last Afrikaner Leaders

The Last Afrikaner Leaders: A Supreme Test of Power

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 448
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    The Last Afrikaner Leaders
    Book Description:

    Finalist for the Alan Paton Award

    In his latest book, renowned historian Hermann Giliomee challenges the conventional wisdom on the downfall of white rule and the end of apartheid. Instead of impersonal forces, or the resourcefulness of an indomitable resistance movement, he emphasizes the role of Nationalist leaders and of their outspoken critic Frederick van Zyl Slabbert. What motivated each of the last Afrikaner leaders, from Verwoerd to de Klerk? How did each try to reconcile economic growth, white privilege, and security with the demands of an increasingly assertive black leadership and unexpected population figures?

    In exploring each leader's background, reasoning, and personal foibles, Giliomee takes issue with the assumption that South Africa was inexorably heading for an ANC victory in 1994. He argues that historical accidents radically affected the course of politics.

    Drawing on primary sources and personal interviews, Giliomee offers a fresh and stimulating political history that attempts not to condemn but to understand why the last Afrikaner leaders did what they did, and why their own policies ultimately failed them.

    Reconsiderations in Southern African History

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3495-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. Introduction: A Tragic Dilemma
    (pp. 9-16)

    In the second half of the twentieth century, south africa went through two ‘revolutions’. The first was the implementation of the apartheid policy, accompanied by massive social engineering, which more comprehensively segregated races than any other racial policy in the world. The second was the unprecedented handing over of power by whites to blacks, although the state, based predominantly on the white minority, was neither defeated nor bankrupt. This book is about five white leaders – Hendrik Verwoerd, John Vorster, PW Botha, FW de Klerk and Frederik van Zyl Slabbert – and their roles in one or other of these...

  4. Chapter 1 An Extraordinary Country
    (pp. 17-37)

    ‘What special intellectual or spiritual task do you suggest to the Afrikaner nation, which as a young West European nation, is only now reaching its spiritual maturity?’¹ In 1951 this was a question the young and upcoming member of the Afrikaner nationalist intelligentsia Piet Meyer asked some leading Western intellectuals after the unexpected National Party victory in the 1948 election.

    Arnold Toynbee, one of the Anglophone world’s most prominent historians, responded. A single-volume abridgement of his ten-volumeA Study of Historyhad appeared four years earlier. In 1949Timemagazine had featured Toynbee on its cover, with a cover story...

  5. Chapter 2 An Extraordinary Professor and the ‘Cape Nats’
    (pp. 38-51)

    When hendrik verwoerd was appointed to df malan’s cabinet in 1950, he joined Eben Dönges, a leading figure of the group that Transvaal conservatives would later label the ‘Cape Nats’. Although Verwoerd and Dönges had known each other from their student days at Stellenbosch and often shared platforms in building the Afrikaner nationalist movement, they were never close personally. Their contribution to the apartheid order was also different.

    With his legal background, Dönges erected the statutory framework in which group areas and other forms of communal apartheid could be imposed without legal challenge. It was he who introduced the three...

  6. Chapter 3 ‘The Most Terrific Clash of Interests Imaginable’: Hendrik Verwoerd’s Response
    (pp. 52-88)

    Hendrik verwoerd spelled out his views on the racial question in South Africa in his maiden speech in parliament in 1948. These views had been moulded by his experience and observations in Johannesburg during the preceding decade. He sketched a picture of Europeans and non-Europeans living mingled across the whole of South Africa. Not only blacks, but also coloureds and Indians were ‘swarming everywhere, uncounted and uncontrolled’.¹ They were mixing in the trams and trains, and were ‘taking possession of the theatres and the streets’. If this ‘mixed development’ continued, he would say a few years later, ‘it would lead...

  7. Chapter 4 Denying Black South Africans Citizenship: John Vorster’s Empire
    (pp. 89-115)

    Two weeks after he came to power in 1966 balthazar johannes (john) Vorster made it clear he was Hendrik Verwoerd’s disciple, planning to grant political rights to blacks only in their own territories and never in ‘white’ territories. Two years later he insisted: ‘We have our land, and we alone will have the say over the land. We have our Parliament, and in that Parliament we and we alone will be represented.’ When his cabinet first met he said: ‘Verwoerd was an intellectual giant. He thought for each of us. I am not capable of being a second Verwoerd. From...

  8. Chapter 5 Moving out into Africa: John Vorster’s Foreign Schemes
    (pp. 116-138)

    Between the election of 1974 and his retirement in september 1978, John Vorster fell from a position where he was widely hailed as a bold and even courageous leader to one over whose head darkening clouds of failure and scandal were gathering.

    Apart from the 1976 Soweto uprising, the turning points were the military coup in Lisbon on 25 April 1974 followed by the new government’s decision to grant independence to Portugal’s two colonies, and the weakening of Ian Smith’s government in Rhodesia after sustained attacks by the liberation movements. The external wing of the South West African People’s Organisation...

  9. Chapter 6 PW Botha and ‘Power Sharing without Losing Control’
    (pp. 139-174)

    In an article published in 1959 under the title ‘history’s warning to Africa’ historian Arnold Toynbee considered the different roads open in an empire to a dominant minority that is suddenly confronted by a majority which for centuries had placidly resigned itself to subjugation. He had in mind Greco-Roman rule over the subordinate populations in southwest Asia. For nearly 1 000 years the dominant minority made no real attempt to socially integrate the native populations. This implacable hostility to absorbing the subordinate classes gave the Arab-Muslim invaders their opportunity to overthrow Roman rule and bring about integration.

    Toynbee pointed to...

  10. Chapter 7 A Crossing Suspended: PW Botha’s Rubicon
    (pp. 175-206)

    Pw botha reached the pinnacle of his power between november 1983 and September 1984. In November 1983 the NP won the referendum for a tricameral parliament that resoundingly ended the symbolic supremacy of whites. Botha did not try to intervene when the labour reforms went well beyond the government’s original intentions. In September 1984 he was sworn in as the first executive president in a system that resembled that of France under Charles de Gaulle.¹

    After 1976 South Africa continued to experience political turbulence, but the state seemed remarkably stable considering that almost all the power and wealth were concentrated...

  11. Chapter 8 Van Zyl Slabbert: The Golden Boy and the Black Prince
    (pp. 207-244)

    In 1973 the progressive party (pp) invited some 30 afrikaner academics to a conference near Pretoria. Standing for a qualified franchise and the abolition of racial discrimination, the PP enjoyed little Afrikaner support. Its sole parliamentary representative was Helen Suzman, who in 1961, 1966 and 1970 won the Houghton seat with its predominance of middle- and upper-class English speakers. Colin Eglin, elected party leader in 1970, stepped up efforts to reach Afrikaner voters. Hoping to attract Afrikaner academics, he invited a number of them to a conference to discuss the idea of an independent think tank that could analyse the...

  12. Chapter 9 ‘The Risk of Not Taking Risks’: Ending Empire
    (pp. 245-279)

    In a famous bbc debate with dutch historian pieter geyl in 1948, Arnold Toynbee – who traced the rise and fall of more than twenty civilisations – spoke of two ‘formidable facts’. First, almost all civilisations the world had known ultimately collapsed. Second, trends could be detected, and also symptoms signifying impending breakdown.¹ According to Toynbee, Western civilisation was heading towards breakdown. He pointed out that once a civilisation reached its zenith, its masters invariably believed history had come to an end. Little more than 40 years later, an American scholar would duly produce a study based on the premise...

  13. Chapter 10 Time for a ‘Quantum Leap’: FW de Klerk’s Venture
    (pp. 280-312)

    On 18 january 1989 the news broke that pw botha had been hospitalised after a stroke and would be on sick leave for six weeks. On 2 February, just before the NP’s parliamentary caucus met, the chairman received a letter from Botha. After proposing the separation of the offices of president and NP leader, Botha asked the party to elect someone in his place as NP leader. Since he had not floated the idea beforehand, the election took place in an atmosphere of high drama. The majority accepted De Klerk’s proposal to elect a new leader immediately to avoid a...

  14. Chapter 11 ‘Paddling into Dangerous Rapids’: Drafting a New Constitution
    (pp. 313-359)

    Looking back in 1997, fw de klerk described setting out in 1990 on the dangerous course of negotiating a new constitution: ‘[It] was rather like paddling a canoe into a long stretch of dangerous rapids. You may start the process and determine the initial direction. However, after that the canoe is seized by enormous and often uncontrollable forces. All that the canoeist can do is to maintain his balance, avoid the rocks and steer as best as he can – and right the canoe if it capsizes. It is a time for cool heads and firm, decisive action.’¹

    De Klerk...

  15. Chapter 12 A Record of Understanding
    (pp. 360-379)

    On 16 may 1992 the anc walked out of codesa 2 and reverted to its earlier demand for an elected constitution-making body empowered to pass a constitution by a two-thirds majority. At the opening of Codesa in December 1991 De Klerk, in a surprise move that he had canvassed with only a small group, proposed that an election be held for both a parliament and a constitution-drafting body. His ideal was a complete interim constitution that the elected constitution-making body could only change with a majority of 75% for decisions on the Bill of Rights, the regions and the structure...

  16. Chapter 13 A wary military
    (pp. 380-391)

    Initially the military reacted positively to de klerk’s speech of 2 February 1990, welcoming the ‘purification’ of its role and stressing the defence force’s professionalism, its apolitical nature and its reliance on citizen soldiers.¹ There appeared to be no chance of a military coup. General Jannie Geldenhuys, chief of the defence force from 1985 to 1990, formulated the traditional posture: ‘The military stands in the British military tradition. It accepts the government of the day and does not interfere with politics. It was never the NP in uniform … I never visited the politicians at home. When De Klerk became...

  17. Chapter 14 Negotiating the NP out of power
    (pp. 392-413)

    Although talks between the government and the anc began shortly after the Record of Understanding was signed, they gained momentum only after the appearance in 1992 of an article by Joe Slovo entitled ‘Negotiations: What Room for Compromise?’¹ Pointing out that ‘there was no prospect of forcing the regime’s unconditional surrender across the table’, he proposed compulsory power sharing in a Government of National Unity for a fixed number of years. He made it clear, however, that ‘no minority veto in any shape or form’ would be tolerated, and that ‘compulsory power-sharing as a permanent feature in a future constitution’...

  18. Concluding remarks
    (pp. 414-424)

    In reassessing the leadership of the national party, one has to ask how the different apartheid-era leaders read the facts, and how they translated these interpretations into political schemes and visions. And most importantly, what was the outcome of their plans?

    In the course of the 1950s Nationalist leaders were forced to accept some fundamental realities: partition was impossible, black labour was indispensable, black urbanisation irreversible, the growth in black numbers inexorable and the prospect of chaos not to be discounted. Eben Dönges, minister of the interior, acknowledged in 1953 that he and his colleagues realised that apartheid could ‘protect’...

  19. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 425-426)
    Hermann Giliomee
  20. About the author
    (pp. 427-428)
  21. Index
    (pp. 429-447)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 448-448)