Obituary: Andries Treurnicht

Andries Petrus Treurnicht, priest, journalist, politician: born Piketberg, South Africa 19 February 1921; Minister, Dutch Reformed Church 1946-60; editor, Die Kerkbode 1960-67; editor, Hoofstad 1967-71; MP for Waterberg 1971-93; Deputy Minister of Education and Training 1976-78, of Plural Relations and Development 1978-79; Leader of National Party in Transvaal 1978-82; Minister of Public Works, Statistics and Tourism 1979-80, for State Administration and Statistics 1980-82; Leader, Conservative Party 1982-93; married 1949 Engela Dreyer (four daughters); died Cape Town 22 April 1993.

THE DEATH of Andries Treurnicht, the leader of South Africa's far-right Conservative Party, removes from the scene one of the most emblematic figures in both the rise and decline of apartheid.

In the first half of his career Treurnicht was a leading figure in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), by far the largest of the Afrikaans churches. Here he personified the fusion of neo-Calvinist and Afrikaner nationalist doctrines which provided the legitimation for the remorseless application of apartheid. Entering politics in 1970, he resisted any deviation from the policy with baffling displays of rectitude. Yet in the final months of his life he came to accept the need for negotiation with the African National Congress for a much smaller white state and held the ring against the violent men of the far right who threatened rebellion and a racial Armageddon.

Treurnicht studied at the University of Stellenbosch before moving on to the University of Cape Town, from which he received a doctorate in political philosophy. He became a minister of the DRC in 1946 and shot into national prominence in the early 1960s as full-time editor of Die Kerkbode, the influential official journal of the DRC.

Treurnicht immediately aligned himself to Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister, who attempted to present apartheid as an ideologically coherent and morally defensible racial policy. For this it was crucial to gain the support of the Afrikaans churches. After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and the state's clampdown on black resistance, the Afrikaans churches appeared to waver in its support for apartheid. At a consultative conference convened by the World Council of Churches in December 1960 DRC delegates endorsed the concluding statement which rejected all unjust discrimination and specifically migrant labour, job reservation and the ban on racially mixed marriages. Verwoerd immediately attacked the statement and, with Treurnicht throwing the weight of Die Kerkbode behind him, the reformist impulse in the Church disappeared until the mid-1980s when another racial revolt rocked South Africa.

More than 20 years younger than Verwoerd, Treurnicht at an early stage contemplated the prospect of succeeding him as leader of the National Party (NP) and prime minister. However, his model was not Verwoerd but Daniel Francois Malan, who founded the party in 1934 and led it to victory in 1948 as the party of Afrikaner nationalism and apartheid.

Also a DRC minister before becoming first editor and then politician, Malan, like Treurnicht, was strongly influenced by the thinking of Abraham Kuyper, a leading neo-Calvinist thinker who also served as prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. Kuyper argued that God created the cosmos as a multitude of spheres of life, in which each circle was characterised by its own authentic nature and was independent of other spheres. Under his influence, the Netherlands was divided into a nation of separate, largely autonomous religious and secular groups.

Malan (in the first half of the century) and Treurnicht in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s ceaselessly propagated the doctrine that the strength of the Afrikaners and of all ethnic groups in South Africa lay in separate cultural, religious and political institutions. Both believed that apartheid would grant each ethnic group the chance to fulfil its own vocation, sovereign in its own sphere of life.

But the flaws in this thinking were all too obvious. Kuyper was concerned with the self-isolation of religious groups on the basis of a specific world view and distinctive beliefs. Malan and Treurnicht favoured statutorily entrenching the groups in South Africa primarily on the basis of race and only secondly on that of culture. In a non-democratic context it became a pretext for freezing the existing inequalities.

When Treurnicht entered politics in 1970 race as a basis for official discrimination had become quite invidious in the Western world. Furthermore, rapid economic growth had made whites and blacks increasingly interdependent and had created the need for an integrated, multi-racial middle class which could legitimise the economic system and inaugurate a new political order.

Treurnicht nevertheless assumed the mantle of a conviction politician, vowing to uphold his bedrock beliefs. In the 1970s and 1980s he became the political leader most closely identified with the opposition to racial integration. Dubbed 'Dr No' by newspapers, he adamantly rejected abandoning apartheid whether it be in politics or playing sport. Failing to recognise the dwindling base of Afrikaner power, he helped to trigger the Soweto uprising of 1976 when, as the responsible deputy minister, he insisted on the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools.

By 1982 Treurnicht as cabinet minister and leader of the NP in the Transvaal was within reach of the ultimate political prize. However, in the same year, he broke away from the party when it accepted the idea of a tricameral parliament in which whites, coloured people and Indians would be represented in separate chambers but from which Africans would be excluded. As founding leader of the Conservative Party, he personified the image of the party's image as that of the 'NP-in-exile', using the same slogans, symbols and political rhetoric of the Verwoerd years two decades back. He openly admitted to wanting to turn the clock back regardless of the fact that the conditions which had made apartheid possible had disappeared. Locked in his Kuyperian system of thought, he could only think of South Africa as comprised of different nations when the reality of single polity in a unitary state had become undeniable.

Under Treurnicht the CP came close to winning majority Afrikaner support, but its weak English-speaking base prevented it from winning power in the election of 1989 when it issued its greatest challenge. When the white electorate in March 1992 strongly endorsed negotiations with the ANC the party and the white right wing was permanently relegated to the political fringes.

Treurnicht's greatest service to South Africa was in restraining violence in right-wing ranks and committing his party to negotiations despite the fact that the new political order coming about in South Africa represented the nightmare which had haunted him his entire life.

Although the policies which he advocated were clearly racist in their effects, Treurnicht did not conform to the reactionary stereotype. A dapper, courteous man, he refrained from using racist rhetoric in public. In this way he personified the ambiguities of apartheid, at least on the ideological level, which for so long perplexed and outraged the world.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy