GEN. Constand Viljoen, the retired defense chief who left his
cattle ranch six months ago to mobilize Dutch-descended Afrikaners
fearful of majority rule, is seen by his growing band of followers
as more than a political leader.
General Viljoen (pronounced `VIL-yoon') stepped into a dangerous
political vacuum in May following the sudden death in April of
Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht. Mr. Treurnicht's
death had left an already fragmented Afrikaner people in deeper
The assassination two weeks earlier of populist black leader
Chris Hani unleashed a wave of black anger that prompted a
spontaneous mobilization of right-wing power - in disarray since
March 1992, when reformists defeated the right in a whites-only
This past spring, a committee of former South African Defense
Force generals formed the Afrikaner Volksfront (Afrikaner People's
Front, AVF) and persuaded Viljoen to be its leader.
Since he hesitantly accepted the leadership of AVF, an umbrella
organization uniting a plethora of white right-wing groups -
Viljoen has emerged as a moral authority in Afrikaner politics.
He has quickly sidelined more radical conservative leaders.
According to some recent public opinion polls, the Volksfront now
commands more support among Afrikaners than President Frederik de
Klerk's ruling National Party.
"The phenomenal growth of the Volksfront under Viljoen has very
serious implications for De Klerk," says Wim Booyse, a political
risk analyst who specializes in right-wing groups. "It has greatly
increased the pressure on him to accommodate the right-wing."
Viljoen's supporters see him in the mold of the Boer generals of
old who committed themselves to fight to the finish against the
British in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902, a struggle that ended with
the Boers' surrender.
His calloused and soil-engrained hands testify to his love of
the earth and add credence to the image he cultivates of a
Some of Viljoen's adversaries are beginning to see him more in
the role of South African statesman Jan Smuts who, although an
Afrikaner, identified with a broader South Africanism and was one
of the founders of the League of Nations.
General Smuts, who died in 1950 - two years after the National
Party came to power - was disliked by militant Afrikaner
"Smuts was a wonderful man, but he was more interested in the
world than in his own people," says Viljoen, a soft-spoken man
with silver-gray hair, steel-blue eyes, and a disarming humility.
"I am more oriented toward my own people than toward the world."
Ironically, Viljoen grew up in a strongly pro-Smuts household.
According to his twin brother Abraham (See accompanying story),
their father, Andries Viljoen, turned his back on politics when
Smuts struck a compromise with the more conservative National Party
leader, Gen. J.B.M. Herzog, in 1934 to form the South African
It was only when Smuts and Herzog broke over the war issue in
1939 that Andries Viljoen's interest in politics was revived.
(Herzog wanted to remain neutral in World War II.)
Constand Viljoen's profile has skyrocketed recently as a result
of the news that he had a clandestine meeting with African national
Congress President Nelson Mandela in mid-August and subsequently
led a right-wing delegation in a series of secret talks with the
ANC about the Afrikaner demand for a volkstaat (people's state), or
homeland for Afrikaners.
The theme of the talks was to find a formula under which
right-wing parties could take part in the country's first
democratic ballot on April 27, 1994, in exchange for a guarantee
that Afrikaners will get a separate territory after the election.
A backlash against the talks within the ranks of his group
forced Viljoen temporarily to suspend the contact and join a
broader coalition of white right-wing parties and conservative
black leaders known as the Freedom Alliance (FA). …