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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced