The last Afrikaner leaders

by Hermann Gililiomee

Publisher: Tafelberg
Genre: Political
Verdict: Sheds light on many key moments
Book Reviewed by: Peter Soal

This is a ‘must-read’ for those interested in recent South African political history. In the well-written, easy flowing narrative Giliomee explores the background, reasoning and personal foibles of the last four National Party leaders and their eloquently outspoken critic, van Zyl Slabbert, arguing that historical accidents and the quality of leadership radically affected the course of politics. The book sheds new light on many key moments from Verwoerds offer to the urban black leadership in 1950, the ‘secret’ incursion into Angola in 1975, the labour reforms, the background to the Rubicon speech, the prison talks with Nelson Mandela and, for me, the most amazing attempt by PW Botha, the arch anti-communist who based his entire strategy on the basis of the total onslaught by the ‘red peril’, to forge a pact with the Soviet Union in 1984.

Giliomee writes that Rykie van Reenen of Die Burger interviewed Hendrik Verwoerd shortly after he became Prime Minister in 1958. She found him to be charming with razor-sharp brain power and lack of even a modicum of self doubt. Asked if he could sleep at night, given the awesome responsibility of executing his policy he replied that he slept well as he did not have the problem of worrying that he could be wrong! Verwoerd has been frequently criticised for his Bantu Education Policy particularly as he said that it made little sense to teach mathematics to a black child if he or she could not use it in a career. The schools continued to teach the subject. However, between 1958 and 1965 a total of only 431 Black matriculants passed maths.

John Vorster who was Prime Minister from 1966 to 1978, was reputed to have had the untidiest desk of all attorneys while he practiced law on the East Rand. He became the MP for Nigel in 1953 and quickly established himself as a man who was seen as tough and would be seen to deal with any undermining influences. Vorster approved a ‘secret’ incursion into Angola in 1975 which developed into an operation to drive the Cubans out of that country and inflict a severe blow on the MPLA organisation. The Angolan adventure was costly but Vorster’s downfall was brought about by the Information affair when Eschel Rhoodie was exposed as having waged an unconvential propaganda war with state funding running into millions. He left office in 1978 and became State President but after a commission found he had been aware of the financial irregularities in the Information Department he was asked to resign.

Astonishingly, the irascible PW Botha whose image was of an anti-communist hawk sought to reach an understanding with the Soviet Union. In 1984 Botha signalled to Moscow that his government was prepared to distance itself from the West if Moscow would reduce support for its proxies in Southern Africa. Niel Barnard, head of the National Intelligence Service led a delegation to a meeting with the Soviets in Vienna in August 1984 but nothing came of the initiative. Botha is best known for the disastrous Rubicon speech but what has not been generally known is that he suffered a stroke in May 1985 which seriously affected his judgement. His condition was kept from all but his closest family members. He was scheduled to deliver an address to the Natal National Party congress in Durban on 15 August 1985 and careful planning went into preparing the ground he would cover and the campaign to prepare the outside world for new initiatives. Botha was part of the planning but decided to ignore the advice of his Minister’s and do his own thing. The result was a ruinous meltdown in diplomatic and economic terms and it took his second stroke for him to relinquish leadership of the Party and later that year the Presidency. While noting the criticisms of his tenure it should be recorded he initiated contact with the ANC and met with Mandela while he was still President.

Giliomee then deals with van Zyl Slabbert. While not a member of the ruling party he played an impressive role in the early years of his public life. He then disappointed many when he abandoned Parliament four short years before de Klerk turned the world upside down in 1990. Had he still been a potent force in politics in the 90’s there is no doubt he would have played a prominent role in the negotiations and the outcome might very well have been different. Slabbert believed he had developed a close bond with Thabo Mbeki only to be disappointed when Mbeki allowed the friendship to go cold. Giliomee writes that Slabbert saw the end of apartheid and knocked at the door to help build the new order but the ANC did not invite him in.

The last Afrikaner leader is FW de Klerk who shook the world on February 2 1990 by announcing the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations and that Nelson Mandela would be unconditionally released. This was de Klerk’s shining moment and he thought he would negotiate a power-sharing deal but it was the ANC who were in the driving seat. Giliomee deals in detail with the negotiations the following four years and comes to the conclusion that the National Party lost the initiative and became the junior partner of the ANC.

Giliomee sets out to understand why the last Afrikaner leaders own policies ultimately failed them. It is a fascinating read and I strongly recommend that it should be on the bookshelf of every person interested in our recent political history.

Reviewed for FMR BOOK CHOICE March 2013 by Peter Soal, a former Member of Parliament and, before that, a member of the Johannesburg City Council. In September 1994, President Nelson Mandela appointed him to the Staff of the Mission of SA to the United Nations after which he retired to Cape Town where he is now a DJ on FMR 101.3.

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Saturday, June 27th, 2015 - The Food Barn, Noordhoek Village
21 at 21: The Coming of Age of a Nation by Melanie Verwoerd and Sonwabiso Ngcowa
Saturday, June 13th, 2015 - De Grendel Restaurant, Durbanville
Dylan Lewis - An Untamed Force by Dylan Lewis and Ian McCallum
Saturday, May 16th, 2015 - Allee Bleue Grand Hall
Jani Confidential - A Memoir by Jani Allan
Saturday, April 18th, 2015 - A Tavola, Wilderness Road, Claremont
The Lodger by Louisa Treger
Saturday, March 28th, 2015 - Imibala Restaurant, Somerset West
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - Allee Bleue, Groot Drakenstein, Franschhoek
The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith
Saturday, December 6th, 2014 - Reuben's, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront
Divided Lives - Dreams of a Mother and Daughter by Lyndall Gordon
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 - The Rhone Manor House, Boschendal
Justice Denied by David Klatzow
Saturday, October 4th, 2014 - A Tavola, Wilderness Road, Claremont
The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher
Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - De Grendel Restaurant, Durbanville
Democrazy - SA's Twenty-Year Trip by Zapiro
Saturday, August 16th, 2014 - Reuben's, One & Only Cape Town
Finders Weepers by Penny Lorimer
Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 - The Food Barn, Noordhoek Village
What's Gone Wrong? On the brink of a failed state by Alex Boraine
Friday, May 9th, 2014 - The Restaurant & Spa @ Clos Malverne
Justice - A Personal Account by Edwin Cameron
Saturday, April 5th, 2014 - Reuben's One&Only Cape Town
Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs
Thursday, March 27th, 2014 - A Tavola, Wilderness Road, Claremont
The Real Meal Revolution - Change the world one meal at a time by Prof Tim Noakes, Sally-Ann Creed, Jonno Proudfoot, David Grier.
Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - The Food Barn, Noordhoek Village
Wineries of the Cape by Lindsaye McGregor & Erica Moodie
Saturday, January 25th, 2014 - De Grendel Restaurant
South African Battles by Tim Couzens
Saturday, December 14th, 2013 - The Eatery, Durbanville Hills, Durbanville
Life on a Cape Farm - Country Cooking at its Best by Lesley and Louise Gillett
Sunday, November 10th, 2013 - Bartholomeus Klip, Bo Hermon Road, near Wellington
Panorama by Pieter-Dirk Uys
Friday, October 11th, 2013 - Waterkloof Restaurant, Waterkloof Estate. Sir Lowry's Pass Road, Somerset West
What Hidden Lies by Michele Rowe
Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - A Tavola, Wilderness Road, Claremont
Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson
Saturday, August 31st, 2013 - The Conservatory, Cellars-Hohenort, Constantia
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Saturday, August 17th, 2013 - Webersburg Wine Estate, Stellenbosch
Cheeses of South Africa - Artisanal Producers & Their Cheeses by Kobus Mulder and Russel Wasserfall
Saturday, July 27th, 2013 - Reuben's, One&Only Cape Town
She Left Me The Gun - My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes
Saturday, June 8th, 2013 - The Food Barn, Noordhoek Village
The Verwoerd Who Toyi-Toyied by Melanie Verwoerd
Saturday, May 25th, 2013 - Harbour View Room, Radisson Blu, Granger Bay
The Accidental Ambassador - from Parliament to Patagonia by Tony Leon
Saturday, May 4th, 2013 - Myoga Restaurant, Vineyard Hotel & Spa
Dark Heart by Tony Park
Saturday, April 20th, 2013 - De Grendel Restaurant
feast at home by Franck Dangereux
Saturday, March 23rd, 2013 - The Food Barn, Noordhoek Village
Kirstenbosch - the most beautiful garden in Africa by Brian J Huntley
Saturday, February 16th, 2013 - The Conservatory, Cellars-Hohenort, Constantia
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult
Saturday, January 19th, 2013 - Reuben's, One&Only Cape Town
Zuma Exposed by Adriaan Basson
Friday, November 23rd, 2012 - A Tavola, Wilderness Road, Claremont
Evita's Bossie Sikelela by Evita Bezuidenhout
Friday, September 21st, 2012 - Suikerbossie Restaurant and Function Venue
Relish - My Life on a Plate by Prue Leith
Thursday, August 30th, 2012 - A Tavola, Wilderness Road, Claremont
The Missing Rose by Serdar Ozkan
Saturday, August 25th, 2012 - Catharina's at Steenberg
Jane Raphaely unedited by Jane Raphaely
Saturday, July 7th, 2012 - The Conservatory, Cellars-Hohenort, Constantia
And Then Life Happens - A Memoir by Auma Obama
Saturday, June 16th, 2012 - De Grendel Restaurant
Invisible Furies by Michiel Heyns
Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 - The Food Barn, Noordhoek Village
How to Walk a Puma by Peter Allison
Saturday, April 21st, 2012 - Reuben's, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront
The Miracle of Crocodile Flats by Jenny Hobbs
Saturday, March 17th, 2012 - Reuben's Restaurant & Bar, Franschhoek
Trackers by Deon Meyer
Saturday, February 11th, 2012 - A Tavola, Wilderness, Claremont
Trackers by Deon Meyer
Saturday, February 11th, 2012 - A Tavola, Wilderness Road, Claremont
A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke & John Rendall
Saturday, January 28th, 2012 - The Conservatory, Cellars-Hohenort, Constantia
Tutu - The Authorised Portrait by Allister Sparks & Mpho Tutu
Saturday, December 3rd, 2011 - Reuben's, One&Only Cape Town
Lifeblood- How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time by Alex Perry
Saturday, November 26th, 2011 - Casa Labia Cafe and Cultural Centre
Opnion Pieces by South African Thought Leaders and The Rough Guide to Nelson Mandela by Max du Preez
Sunday, November 13th, 2011 - Allee Bleue
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
Friday, October 14th, 2011 - Catharina's at Steenberg
CONQUEROR by Conn Iggulden
Saturday, October 8th, 2011 - The Food Barn, Noordhoek Village
Shooting Angels by Christopher Hope
Saturday, September 24th, 2011 - Trinity, 15 Bennett Street, Green Point
From Robben Island to Bishop’s Court - The Biography of Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane by Dr Sindiwe Magona
Saturday, July 30th, 2011 - The Vineyard Hotel & Spa
Evita's BlackBessie by Evita Bezuidenhout
Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 - Buitenverwachting Restaurant, Constantia
Other People's Money by Justin Cartwright
Friday, May 20th, 2011 - Catharina's at Steenberg
Little Liberia - An African Odyssey in New York by Jonny Steinberg
Saturday, April 30th, 2011 - Trinity, 15 Bennett Street, Green Point
Sometimes there is a Void - Memoirs of an Outsider by Zakes Mda
Saturday, April 30th, 2011 - Dieu Donne Restaurant, Franschhoek
The Killing Place by Tess Gerristen
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 - The Food Barn
MODERN WINERIES OF SOUTH AFRICA by Photographs by Craig Fraser, words by Hugh Fraser
Saturday, January 29th, 2011 - The Homestead, Dornier Wine Estate
Chasing the Devil by Tim Butcher
Saturday, December 4th, 2010 - Sevruga,V & A Waterfront