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Balthazar Johannes Vorster

Balthazar Johannes Vorster derved as a Prime Minister, sworn in on September 13, 1966, and re-elected on April 22, 1970.

Background

  • Balthazar was born on December 13, 1915, at Jamestown, Cape Province, into an Afrikaner sheep farmer’s family which resented the privileged position of English emigrants there. Educated at Sterkstroom, Cape Province.

  • Education

    • In September 1934 he entered Stellenbosch University where he took sociology classes under Dr Verwoerd and retained a life-long connection with him in politics. After making his mark as a speaker during his term as chairman of the university debating society he graduated as Bachelor of Arts in 1936 and Bachelor of Law in 1938. His first job was as registrar to Justice H. S. van Zyl, Judge President in Cape Town. In 1939 he started a law practice in Port Elizabeth.

    Career

    • His first serious political activity led to his arrest. As one of the founders of Ossewabradwag (Oxwagon Guard), which was anti-Jewish and opposed to South Africa fighting with Britain against the Nazi Germans, Vorster was detained in September 1942 without trial for three months and then held for 17 months at an internment camp. He proudly recalls his days as Internee 2229/42 of Hut 48, Camp 1, Koffiefontein in the Orange Free State and still says. “I was against the war and I would do it again.”

      Released in June 1944, he opened a lawyer’s office at Brakpan in the Transvaal but his political ambitions were blocked. The Nationalist Party refused his application for membership because he supported “authoritarian State principles”. In the 1948 general election he stood as an Afrikaner Party candidate and lost by only two votes. He moved to the neighbouring constituency of Nigel, stood as a Nationalist and won in the 1953 election. He was called to the Bar at Johannesburg in 1954 and continued'as an advocate until 1958.

      As an enthusiast of the Broederbond, the right-wing Afrikaner society, he helped organise the election victory of Premier J. G. Strijdom in 1954. His old professor Dr Verwoerd welcomed his campaigning in 1958 and rewarded him with a junior post in October 1958 as Deputy Minister of Education, Arts and Science and of Social Welfare and Pensions. He was responsible for applying separate development to African education through the Bantu. Education Act.

      In Verwoerd’s cabinet reshuffle of August 1961 he became Minister of Justice. His first speech as Minister set the pattern of his policy: “The rights of free speech, assembly and protest are getting out of hand.” His concern for subversion was highlighted by the Sabotage Act, the provision of 90 days and then 180 days without trial. To calm Afrikaner fears about security he made great play with the so-called Communist plot of the Rivonia Conspiracy in 1963.

      None of his rigid apartheid policies or security regulations was relaxed on becoming Prime Minister. He refused to let an English cricket team which included Cape Coloured Basil D'Oliviera play in South Africa in September 1968. He tightened security in May 1969 by establishing the Bureau of State Security as a special intelligence unit directly responsible to the Prime Minister.

      His external race relations policy of dialogue made history in February 1967 when he received Chief Lebua Jonathan, Prime Minister of Lesotho, on the first official visit of a black leader. Vorster visited Malawi in May 1970 and President Hastings Banda was received back in South Africa in August 1971. The United Nations Secretary-General, Dr Kurt Waldheim, visited South Africa to discuss racial questions over South-west Africa in March 1972. An attempt to manoeuvre President Kaunda of Zambia into a dialogue ended in public recrimination in August 1971 with the publication of their letters.

      Although his “outward-looking policies” were endorsed in the total defeat of the ultra-right challenge from the Herstigte Nasionale Party in all 80 seats it contested at the 1970 general election, the Nationalists lost nine seats to the United Party the first loss for 22 years. This setback was driven home by the political backlash over the violent clashes between police and students in June 1972. His problems on the domestic front continued in 1973 despite a drastic reshuffle the biggest in 24 years of Nationalist government in July 1972 when he dismissed five cabinet ministers.

    Politics

    Twice chosen for high office because of his reputation as a man of iron will, yet he surprised everyone by his flexibility. As Minister of Justice after the Sharpeville shootings in March 1960 when 67 Africans were shot dead in demonstrations against pass laws he did not shrink from drastic measures including detention without trial. As successor to the assassinated Premier Verwoerd, he was the natural choice for restoring Afrikaner confidence in firm government. But the heavily-built, seemingly slow-moving leader went faster with verligte (enlightened) policies than the verkrampte (hardline) Nationalists ever imagined. His most important innovation was the opening of dialogue with black African states and his cultivation of a “Live and Let Live” relationship with his neighbours.

    Party affiliation: National Party

    Religion

    Denomination: Dutch Reformed Church

    Personality

    The number 13 has figured significantly throughout his life. His birthday fell on the 13th and he was the 13th child in the family. At Premier Verwoerd’s death he was 13th in cabinet seniority and he travelled in car no. 13 to the funeral. He was elected Prime Minister after 13 years in Parliament and sworn in on September 13. His golf handicap: 13.

    As a sufferer from heart trouble, he has avoided flying whenever possible. His two long visits outside Africa have been to South America for health reasons and then to Europe in June 1970. He was in hospital in August 1970 for a bladder operation.

    Connections

    • spouse: Tini Vorster
    Balthazar Johannes Vorster
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    Born December 13, 1915
    Died September 10, 1983
    (aged 67)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1934 - 1936
      Stellenbosch University
      South Africa
    • September 13, 1966 - October 2, 1978
      8th Prime Minister of South Africa
      South Africa
    • October 10, 1978 - June 4, 1979
      4th State President of South Africa
      South Africa