Negotiating In Turbulent Times The Right Wing Blusters General Constand Viljoen’s Anguish

Uncertainty about what General Constand Viljoen might be planning was constantly in the background while the negotiations continued. Viljoen had served as chief of the South African Defence Force before retiring in 1984. He had been the model of the disciplined soldier faithfully executing the commands of the political leadership, but became convinced that the ANC was pursuing a revolutionary agenda and that F.W. de Klerk had caved in to its demands.

Called the last of the Boer generals, he was widely respected in the Defence Force for his professionalism and personal integrity. Blunt, determined and committed to the Afrikaner cause, he was the sort of leader to whom many Afrikaners would have flocked if he had had a credible plan of action. Viljoen and his followers joined The Afrikaner Volksfront, a coalition of right-wing organisations, which all rejected participation in a democratic election and demanded an Afrikaner volkstaat, or ethnic state.

Most of the Volksfront favoured a ‘white’ state with Pretoria as its capital and including parts of the western Transvaal, eastern Transvaal and northern Free State. But while approximately two-thirds of the Afrikaners resided in this area, the great majority of people there were non-Afrikaners. A 1993 poll showed that only one-fifth of the Afrikaners would consider moving to a volkstaat and more than half either opposed it or were uncertain about it.

By 1993 Viljoen began to plan to disrupt the elections, have De Klerk removed as president and restart the negotiations. Some believed that he could raise 50 000 men from the Auxiliary Citizen’s Force and also some Defence Force units. In a briefing, General George Meiring, chief of the Defence Force, warned the government and the ANC of the ghastly consequences of Viljoen’s opposing the election.

To dissuade Viljoen, for whom he had ‘the highest regard’, Meiring had several meetings with him. At one meeting Viljoen said, ‘You and I and our men can take this country in an afternoon,’ to which Meiring replied, ‘Yes, that is so, but what do we do the morning after the coup?’ The white black demographic balance, the internal and foreign pressures, and all the intractable problems would still be there. After a debacle in Mafikeng, Viljoen abandoned all plans for an uprising.

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