Military Wiki
Magnus Malan
Magnus Malan circa 1990.
Minister of Defence

In office
Preceded by P.W. Botha
Succeeded by Roelf Meyer
Personal details
Born Magnus André De Merindol Malan
(1930-01-30)30 January 1930
Pretoria, Union of South Africa
Died 18 July 2011(2011-07-18) (aged 81)
Nationality South African
Political party National Party
Spouse(s) Magrietha Johanna van der Walt
Children 2 sons, 1 daughter
Alma mater University of Pretoria
Occupation politician and military chief
Religion Dutch Reformed

General Magnus André De Merindol Malan (30 January 1930 – 18 July 2011[1]) was the Minister of Defence (in the cabinet of President P. W. Botha), Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF) and Chief of the South African Army.

Personal life

Malan's father was a professor of biochemistry at the University of Pretoria and later a Member of Parliament (1948–1966) and Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees (1961–1966) of the House of Assembly. He started his high school education at the Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool but later moved to Dr Danie Craven’s Physical Education Brigade in Kimberley, where he completed his matriculation. He wanted to join the South African armed forces immediately after his matric, but his father advised him first to complete his university studies. As a result of this advice, Malan enrolled at the University of Stellenbosch in 1949 to study for a Bachelor of Commerce degree. However, he later abandoned his studies in Stellenbosch and went to University of Pretoria, where he enrolled for a B.Sc. Mil. degree. He graduated in 1953.

In 1962 Malan married Magrietha Johanna van der Walt; the couple had two sons and one daughter.

Military career

At the end of 1949, the first military degree course for officers was advertised and Malan joined the Permanent Force as a cadet, going on to complete his BSc Mil at the University of Pretoria in 1953.

He was commissioned in the Navy and served in the Marines based on Robben Island. When they were disbanded, he was transferred back into the Army as a lieutenant.[2]

Malan was earmarked for high office from early on in his military career; one of the many courses he attended was the Regular Command and General Staff Officers Course in the United States of America from 1962 to 1963. He went on to serve as commanding officer of various entities, including South-West Africa Command, the South African Military Academy and Western Province Command.

In 1973 he was appointed as Chief of the South African Army and three years later as Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF).

As Chief of the SADF he implemented many administrative changes that earned him great respect in military circles. During this period he became very close to P.W. Botha, the then Minister of Defence and later Prime Minister.

Awards and decorations

Malan was awarded the following military decorations:

Political career

In October 1980 Botha appointed Malan defence minister in the National Party government, a post he held until 1991. As a result of this appointment he joined the National Party and became Member of Parliament for Modderfontein. He was also elected to be a member of the Executive Council of the National Party.[3]

During Malan's tenure in parliament as defence minister his greatest opposition came from MPs of the Progressive Federal Party such as Harry Schwarz and Philip Myburgh, who both served as shadow defence ministers at various points during the 1980s.[4]

In July 1991, following a scandal involving secret government funding to the Inkatha Freedom Party and other opponents of the African National Congress, President F. W. de Klerk removed Malan from his influential post of defence minister and appointed him minister for water affairs and forestry.[5]

A fast attack craft of the South African Navy was named after him prior to the change of government in 1994.

After politics

On 2 November 1995 Malan was charged together with other former senior military officers for murdering 13 people (including seven children) in the KwaMakhutha massacre in 1987. The murders were said to have been part of a conspiracy to create war between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and maintaining white minority rule. The charges related to an attack in January 1987 on the home of Victor Ntuli, an ANC activist, in KwaMakhutha township near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.

Malan and the other accused were bailed and ordered to appear in court again on 1 December 1995. A seven-month trial then ensued and brought hostility between black and white South Africans to the fore once again. All the accused were eventually acquitted. President Mandela supported the verdict and called on South Africans to respect it.[6] Nonetheless in South Africa, the Malan trial has come to be widely seen symbol of failure of the legal process in achieving justice for the atrocities committed under apartheid.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Malan also had to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

On 26 January 2007, he was interviewed by shortwave/Internet talk radio show The Right Perspective.[14] It is believed to be one of the very few, if not the only, interviews Gen. Malan gave outside of South Africa.


General Magnus Malan died peacefully at home on Monday 18 July 2011. He is survived by his wife, 3 children and 9 grandchildren.[15][16]

Preceded by
Pieter Willem Botha
Minister of Defence (South Africa)
Succeeded by
Roelf Meyer
Preceded by
Hugo Biermann
Chief of the South African Defence Force
1976 – 1980
Succeeded by
Constand Viljoen
Preceded by
Willem Louw
Chief of the South African Army
1973 – 1976
Succeeded by
Constand Viljoen


  1. Douglas Martin (18 July 2011). "Magnus Malan, Apartheid Defender, Dies at 81". The New York Times. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Location Settings (18 July 2011). "Magnus Malan's career". News24. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  3. Magnus Andre De Merindol Malan, South African History Online, accessed 3 December 2007
  4. Roherty, James (1992). State security in South Africa: civil-military relations under P.W. Botha. M E Sharpe Inc. ISBN 0-87332-877-9. 
  5. Chronology 1990-1999, South African History Online, accessed 3 December 2007
  6. 1995: Ex-minister charged with apartheid murders, BBC News, accessed 3 November 2006
  7. 10 S. Afr. J. Crim. Just. 141 (1997) Failing to Pierce the Hit Squad Veil: An Analysis of the Malan Trial; Varney, Howard; Sarkin, Jeremy
  8. 1989 Acta Juridica 165 (1989) Sub-Contracting the Dirty Work; Plasket, Clive
  9. Herbert M. Howe (1994). The South African Defence Force and Political Reform. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 32
  10. 16 S. Afr. J. on Hum. Rts. 415 (2000) After the Dry White Season: The Dilemmas of Reparation and Reconstruction in South Africa; Jenkins, Catherine
  11. The "New" South Africa: Violence Works Bill Berkeley World Policy Journal , Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter, 1996/1997), pp. 73-80
  12. 117 S. African L.J. 572 (2000) Second Bite at the Amnesty Cherry - Constitutional and Policy Issues around Legislation for a Second Amnesty, A; Klaaren, Jonathan; Varney, Howard
  13. Shattered voices: language, violence, and the work of truth commissions Teresa Godwin Phelps. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004 p. 64
  14. [1][dead link]
  15. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Location Settings (18 July 2011). "Magnus Malan dies". News24. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  16. Davies, Richard (18 July 2011). "Magnus Malan dies 'peacefully' at 81". Retrieved 18 July 2011. 

External links

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