Constand Viljoen

Constand Viljoen
Leader of the Freedom Front Plus
In office
1 March 1994  26 June 2001
Succeeded by Pieter Mulder
Member of Parliament
In office
President Nelson Mandela
Thabo Mbeki
Personal details
Born Constand Laubscher Viljoen
(1933-10-28) 28 October 1933[1]
Standerton, Transvaal, Union of South Africa
Political party Freedom Front Plus (19942001)
Other political
National Party (pre-1994)
Spouse(s) Christina "Ristie" Heckroodt
Relations Braam Viljoen (Twin brother)
Children 5
Alma mater University of Pretoria
Military service
Allegiance  South Africa
Service/branch  South African Army
Years of service 1956–1985
Rank General

4 Field Regiment

School of Artillery
Battles/wars South African Border War

Constand Laubscher Viljoen SSA SD SOE SM MMM ORB (born 28 October 1933) is a former South African military commander and politician. He is partly credited with preventing the outbreak of armed violence by disaffected white South Africans prior to post-apartheid general elections. He is married to Christina Susanna Heckroodt and has four sons and a daughter.[2]

Military service

Viljoen matriculated at Standerton High School in 1951. He joined South Africa's pre-republic Union Defence Force in 1956 upon receiving a degree in military science at the University of Pretoria.[1] By 1974, Viljoen had been named the South African Army's Director of General Operations, subsequently serving as the Principal Staff Officer to the Chief of the South African Defence Force. He was appointed as Chief of the Army in 1977 and succeeded Magnus Malan as SADF chief in 1980.[3]:xv

Angolan service

Viljoen was the senior SADF military officer directing Operation Savannah in 1975. He is also credited with planning the first major airborne assault in South African military history, Cassinga, a raid carried out against SWAPO insurgents. Despite his rank, Viljoen was present during the battle,[4] offering what was described as a "swashbuckling" front-line leadership, which won him the respect of many fellow Afrikaners.[5]

Political career

Viljoen is credited by some with making overtures which helped lead to white South Africans' acceptance of universal suffrage and free elections, such as with his famous speech at the Broederbond annual assembly in Voortrekkerhoogte, saying of the Black South Africans in his army, As hulle kan veg vir Suid-Afrika, kan hulle stem vir Suid-Afrika! (Afrikaans: "If they can fight for South Africa, then they can vote for South Africa!")[6].

In 1993, Viljoen and fellow retired generals formed the Afrikaner Volksfront (Afrikaner People's Front), an umbrella body for conservative Afrikaners. However, Viljoen reportedly had strained relationships with the leaders of other right-wing parties, who considered him too moderate.[7]

Bophuthatswana action and decision to contest elections

Immediately prior to the 1994 elections Viljoen had a force of between 50,000 and 60,000 trained paramilitary personnel at his command, with the ability to seize large sections of the country.[8][9] The force was assembled in preparation for war with Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress, as a potential contingency to protect Afrikaner interests.[10]

In March 1994, Viljoen led an effort by several thousand Volksfront militia to protect the bantustan president, Lucas Mangope, in Bophuthatswana against a coup d'état.[11] Despite being requested not to participate in the action because of extremist views, militants of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging also advanced into Bophuthatswana, sparking clashes with the security forces.[12]

Immediately after the incident, Viljoen split from the Volksfront[13] and initiated a legitimate election campaign,[14] co-founding and becoming leader of the Freedom Front (Vryheidsfront), a new political party representing white conservatives. His decision to take part in the elections is believed to have prevented armed resistance by the far right and on the occasion of his retirement from politics, the South African government recognised him for preventing bloodshed.[15]

Viljoen's decision was at least partly influenced by the mediation of his identical twin brother, Abraham (Braam) Viljoen, who was an anti-apartheid activist while his brother led the military.[16][17]

Post-apartheid South Africa

In the election, the Freedom Front, under the leadership of Viljoen, received 2.2% of the national vote and nine seats in the National Assembly. It became the strongest party outside Nelson Mandela's Government of National Unity. Although his supporters were at odds with the government and the ANC, Viljoen praised Mandela on the occasion of his retreat from politics in 1999, even ending his Parliamentary speech with an attempt at speaking in Mandela's native language, Xhosa: Go rest in peace. Go rest in the shadow of a tree at your home.

In 2001, Viljoen handed over the leadership of the Freedom Front to Pieter Mulder and retired from politics, citing his frustration working with a parliament dominated by the ANC.[18]

After retirement

In 2003, it emerged that Viljoen had been a target of the Boeremag paramilitary right-wing group, which considered him a traitor who had underhandedly sold out the Afrikaner people.[19]

In 2008 Viljoen, aged 74, put up what was described as a spirited fight against two would-be muggers, who were subsequently arrested.[20]

Awards and decorations

See also


  1. 1 2 Viljoen, Constand Laubscher - The O'Malley Archives
  2. "Gen. Constand Viljoen". Boerevolkstaat. 16 May 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  3. Hamann, Hilton (2001). "Introduction". Days of the Generals. Cape Town: Zebra Press (Struck Publishers). ISBN 1-86872-340-2.
  4. "Battle of Cassinga still rages". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  5. Keller, Bill (1993-05-06). "South African Rightists Rally Behind Ex-Generals". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  6. "Mandela united a nation seeking national pride". Pressreader. Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition). Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  7. Waldmeir, Patti (1998). "13: Battling for the Right". Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa. Rutgers University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-8135-2582-2.
  8. "Soweto bombs may have been just a 'dry run'". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  9. "Proving That One Man Can Make a Difference". US News & World Report. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  10. "Viljoen reveals just how close SA came to war". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  11. Keller, Bill (1994-03-11). "Homeland Leader in South Africa Flees His Capital". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  12. Keller, Bill (1994-03-12). "Mixed Signals Fatal for South African Separatists". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  13. Cohen, Tom (1994-03-13). "South Africa Takes Control Of Homeland -- Bophuthatswana's Ruler Removed To Open Up Election". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  14. Keller, Bill (1994-03-13). "A Homeland's Agony". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  15. "Mbeki thanks Constand Viljoen". News24. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  16. "Abraham Viljoen: Longtime Campaigner For Black-White Solidarity in South Africa". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  17. "Mediation during the Transition in South Afric". University of South Africa. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  18. "Constand Viljoen to leave SA parliament". BBC. 2001-03-15. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  19. "Was the TAU part of the Boeremag plot?". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  20. "Ex-SANDF chief turns tables on muggers". IOL News. Retrieved 2013-04-19.
Party political offices
New title
New Party
Leader of the Freedom Front
Succeeded by
Dr Pieter Mulder
Military offices
Preceded by
Magnus Malan
Chief of the South African Defence Force
Succeeded by
Johannes Geldenhuys
Preceded by
Magnus Malan
Chief of the South African Army
Succeeded by
Johannes Geldenhuys
Preceded by
JW van Niekerk
OC SA Army College
Succeeded by
Johan Potgieter
Preceded by
Hendrik Greyvenstein
OC School of Artillery
Succeeded by
Shorty Brown
Preceded by
Chief Instructor Gunnery
Succeeded by
John AR Cox
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