(b. 12 Jan. 1916, d. 31 Oct 2006).
Prime Minister of South Africa 1978–84, President 1984–9
Born in Paul Roux (Orange Free State), he abandoned his university studies and moved to Cape Province in 1936 to become a full‐time officer of the National Party. He entered parliament in 1948, becoming Minister of Defence in 1966. Following Vorster's resignation he became Prime Minister, largely owing to the disunity among the Transvaal members of the National Party.
He became President under a revised Constitution which gave him extensive powers. While he appreciated the difficulties arising from the growing economic, cultural, and military isolation of his country because of the apartheid system, he was also frightened by the potential erosion of National Party support at the hands of more radical proponents of apartheid, who in 1982 formed the Conservative Party. Hence, his racial reforms were careful and partial. He abolished the pass laws compelling Blacks and Coloureds to carry identity cards, and conceded limited Coloured and Indian (though not Black) representation in parliament. He also conceded the idea of Namibian independence in 1988, which ultimately took place in 1990. His autocratic style and his increasingly evident inability to find a solution to the country's racial problems, plunged the country more and more into international isolation. While recuperating from a heart attack, he was replaced by de Klerk. The ‘Great Crocodile’ refused to cooperate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he considered illegitimate. For this, he was given a 12‐month suspended jail sentence and a fine of 10,000 Rand.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).