'Promises' Koornoof: A 'New Breed' Of Afrikaaner Politician

R. PIET "PROMISES" KOORNOOF, South Africa's minister of cooperation and development, is one of the most powerful men in that country today. His job is to oversee the blacks in South Africa. According to his own testimony, he is committed to "a period of reform" and has bolstered this statement by his past and present activities. As minister of sport, Koornhof was responsible for the desegregation of athletic clubs and certain sports events. In his present position, he is responsible for relaxing government pass law requirements and supporting the recommendations of two commissions advocating far reaching reforms in South Africa's labor laws.

Dr. Koornhof is criticized by white liberals for promising much, yet delivering little--hence the nickname "Piet Promises." At the same time the right wing of his own party vociferously denounces his politics. On a recent trip to the United States, Dr. Koornhof declared that "apartheid is dying and dead." He was immediately challenged at home by Dr. Treurnicht, a staunch Afrikaaner conservative and leader of the conservative bloc in the country. Prime Minister Botha reprimanded Dr. Treurnicht in a showing of support for Koornhof's statements.

Koornhof offers no immediate solutions, but he does offer hope insomuch as he represents a new breed of Afrikaaner politician. He is willing to admit the inequities and hardships blacks suffer in South Africa and is devoted to finding a solution, albeit an Afrikaaner solution, to South Africa's racial troubles. Dr. Koornhof, Prime Minister P.W. Botha, and the Foreign Minister Pik Botha, are "verligte" i.e. liberal Afrikaaners. Dr. Treurnicht, a former chairman of the Broederbond, is "verkrampte" i.e. conservative. The question of South Africa's future will depend to a large extent on the political struggle between these factions of South Africa's national party.

We spoke with Dr. Koornhof at his Pretoria home in late July.

Q: You have all the credentials of what we could call in the United States a card-carrying liberal. You are the son of a minister and a graduate of Oxford University. I understand that you have maintained your academic interest through the Rand Afrikaans University, and as a faculty member of the South African Academy of Arts and Sciences. Yet you find yourself a member of the same party as Dr. Treurnicht. Is this an anomaly? A: No, I don't think it's an anomaly. I've been in parliament now for 18 years. I've been interested in politics all my life and I've been in public life for more than 30 years. I explain it by saying that Dr. Treurnicht, whom I know well because we studied together at Stellenbosch University in 1946, '47, and '48, has the image of being a more conservative type of politician, and he is, I think, a strong man. He's got rapport with...let's say, a more conservative minded white voter in South Africa.


I, on the other hand, am moving more...let's say...on the liberal side as you put it, with the result that I haven't got the same rapport with the conservative minded white voter.

I see the situation, as a social anthropologist by training, as a very good thing, provided that there is understanding between a man like Dr. Treurnicht and myself. If a bridge can be built on two strong pillars across a rather wide spectrum, it may in that way effect renewal and reform and solve problems.

Q: Do you see any irony in the fact that it was you, a past research officer in Bantu Affairs on the staff of Dr. Verwoerd, father of apartheid, who was to make the rather sensational "apartheid is dead" statement in the United States?

A: (Laughter)...Yes...I don't think there is so much irony in it, but if one has grown up with this old concept over a period of thirty years, then it is certainly very interesting indeed. I was appointed immediately after my return from Oxford as a personal research officer for Verwoerd. I think this is indicative of something which is overlooked in the world at this moment and that is the tremendous constitutional process that's been going on for more than a quarter of a century in this country.

Real chances and opportunities from the top level down have been created. That's the reason why we, pole cat of the world, have avoided the bloody revolution despite the fact that the whole of Africa was in a period of revolution.

As you have in the States or as other plural societies like Switzerland, we've got the same basic things, namely, good strong local government for all the different types of people in this country. Then we have got a very good regional government. The whites have got the provincial government. The simple fact of the matter is that the black states' government, from whichever point of view you look at it, is at least very good regional government. Kwazulu has got a very good administrative government, very good from the point of view of law and order and from any possible point of view. They are good types of government, and anybody must be stupid to think that you can ignore that in this constitutional process. So you've got the trimmings and the makings of a very sound foundation for a very exciting further constitutional development.

I tend to be optimistic in my outlook. I believe in Norman Peel's power of positive thinking, and so maybe I could be accused of being too optimistic. I think that we will show the world a very fine system of plural government in this part of the world.

Q: Do you see a possibility of an end to the legal separation of the races?

A: I think there are a few things which the white people place quite a premium on. The first thing is the strong belief in a mother tongue education. Therefore they strongly believe it's in the interests of the child, be they white, black, coloured, or indian, that the children be educated through their mother tongue. In practice that means that each goes to his different school. So the schools issue is a sensitive thing although you have got mixed private schools and it came across with not too many hitches. It's a sensitive and emotional area.

The second thing is the question of townships. The concerns are for devaluation of properties, variations in properties in going with different things and different setups and so on and so forth. At this moment in time I would think they put a high premium on the way they live. Their day to day life must be in a way which they prefer it to be.

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