Military Wiki
Constand Laubscher Viljoen
File:General Constand Viljoen (SADF).jpg
Leader of the Freedom Front Plus

In office
1 March 1994 – 26 June 2001
Succeeded by Pieter Mulder
Member of Parliament

In office
Personal details
Born 28 October 1933(1933-10-28) (age 89)
Standerton, Transvaal Province (now Mpumalanga), South Africa
Nationality South Africa
Political party Freedom Front Plus
Military service
Allegiance South Africa
Service/branch South African Army
Years of service 1956-1985
Rank General
Battles/wars Border War

General Constand Viljoen SSA SD SOE SM (born on 28 October 1933, Standerton, Mpumalanga[1]) is a former South African military commander and politician. He is partly credited with preventing the outbreak of armed violence by disaffected white South Africans prior to post-apartheid general elections. He is married to Christina Sussanna Heckroodt and has four sons and a daughter.[2]

Military career

Viljoen matriculated in Standerton High School in 1951. He joined South Africa's pre-republic Union Defence Force in 1956 upon receiving a degree in military science at the University of Pretoria.[1] By 1974, Viljoen had been named the South African Army's Director of General Operations, subsequently serving as the Principal Staff Officer to the Chief of the South African Defence Force. He was appointed as Chief of the Army in 1977 and succeeded Magnus Malan as SADF chief in 1980.[3]

Angolan service

Viljoen was the senior SADF military official directing Operation Savannah in 1975. He is also credited with planning the first major airborne assault in South African military history, Cassinga, a raid carried out against SWAPO insurgents. Despite his rank, Viljoen was present during the battle,[4] offering what has been described as a "swashbuckling" front-line leadership which won him the respect of many fellow Afrikaners.[5]

Political career

Viljoen is credited by some with kick-starting the Afrikaners' self-examination that lead to their acceptance of universal suffrage and free elections, with his famous speech at the Broederbond annual assembly in Voortrekkerhoogte, saying of the black South Africans in his army - As hulle kan veg vir Suid-Afrika, kan hulle stem vir Suid-Afrika! ("If they can fight for South Africa, then they can vote for South Africa!").

In 1993 Viljoen and fellow retired generals formed the Afrikaner Volksfront (Afrikaner People's Front), an umbrella body for right-wing groups. However, Viljoen reportedly had strained relationships with the leaders of other right-wing parties.[6]

Bophuthatswana action and decision to contest elections

Immediately prior to the 1994 elections Viljoen had a force of between 50,000 and 60,000 trained military personnel at his command, with the ability to take over large parts of the country.[7] [8] The force was assembled in preparation for war with Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, as a last-ditch move to protect Afrikaner interests.[9]

In March 1994 Viljoen led an effort by several thousand white militia to protect the government of Lucas Mangope in the bantustan of Bophuthatswana against a popular uprising.[10] Despite being asked not to participate in the action because of their racist views, members of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement also moved into Bophuthatswana, sparking clashes with the security forces the white militia were supposed to support.[11]

Immediately after the incident Viljoen split off from the Volksfront[12] and started an election campaign,[13] co-founding and becoming leader of the Freedom Front (Afrikaans: Vryheidsfront), a political party representing conservative Afrikaner interests. His decision to take part in the elections are believed to have prevented a violent uprising by Afrikaners and on the occasion of his retirement from politics the ANC government thanked him for preventing bloodshed.[14]

Viljoen's decision was at least partially influenced by the mediation of his identical twin brother, Abraham (Braam) Viljoen, who was an anti-apartheid activist while his brother led the military.[15] [16]

Post-Apartheid South Africa

In the election, the Freedom Front, under the leadership of Viljoen, received 2.2% of the national vote and nine seats in the National Assembly. It became the strongest party not involved in the government of national unity under Nelson Mandela then. Although his party was at odds with the government and the ANC, Viljoen praised Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his retreat from politics in 1999, even ending his Parliamentary speech with an attempt at speaking in Mandela's native language, Xhosa. Translated, he said: Go rest in peace. Go rest in the shadow of a tree at your home.

In 2001 Viljoen handed over the leadership of the Freedom Front to Pieter Mulder and retired from politics, saying he had grown frustrated working in a parliament dominated by the ANC.[17]

Post retirement

In 2003 it emerged that Viljoen had been a target of the Boeremag paramilitary right-wing group, which considered him a traitor who had underhandedly sold out the Afrikaner people.[18]

In 2008 Viljoen, aged 74, put up what was described as a spirited fight against two would-be muggers, who were subsequently arrested.[19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Viljoen, Constand Laubscher - The O'Malley Archives
  2. [1]
  3. Hamann, Hilton (2001). "Introduction". The days of the generals. Zebra. p. xv. ISBN 978-1-86872-340-9. 
  4. "Battle of Cassinga still rages". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  5. Keller, Bill (1993-05-06). "South African Rightists Rally Behind Ex-Generals". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  6. Waldmeir, Patti (1998). "13: Battling for the Right". Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa. Rutgers University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-8135-2582-2. 
  7. "Soweto bombs may have been just a 'dry run'". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  8. "Proving That One Man Can Make a Difference". US News & World Report. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  9. "Viljoen reveals just how close SA came to war". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  10. Keller, Bill (1994-03-11). "Homeland Leader in South Africa Flees His Capital". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  11. Keller, Bill (1994-03-12). "Mixed Signals Fatal for South African Separatists". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  12. Cohen, Tom (1994-03-13). "South Africa Takes Control Of Homeland -- Bophuthatswana's Ruler Removed To Open Up Election". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  13. Keller, Bill (1994-03-13). "A Homeland's Agony". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  14. "Mbeki thanks Constand Viljoen". News24.,,2-7-12_996781,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  15. "Abraham Viljoen: Longtime Campaigner For Black-White Solidarity in South Africa". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  16. "Mediation during the Transition in South Afric". University of South Africa. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  17. "Constand Viljoen to leave SA parliament". BBC. 2001-03-15. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  18. "Was the TAU part of the Boeremag plot?". Independent Online. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  19. "Ex-SANDF chief turns tables on muggers". IOL News. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Magnus Malan
Chief of the South African Defence Force
1980 – 1985
Succeeded by
Johannes Geldenhuys
Preceded by
Magnus Malan
Chief of the South African Army
1976 – 1980
Succeeded by
Johannes Geldenhuys

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