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General Constand Laubscher Viljoen, (born 28 October 1933) 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 Susanna Heckroodt and has four sons and a daughter.
Viljoen matriculated at 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. 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 General Magnus Malan as Chief of the South African Defence Force in 1980.:xv
Viljoen was the senior SADF military officer 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, offering what was described as a "swashbuckling" front-line leadership, which won him the respect of many fellow Afrikaners.
Viljoen is credited by some with making overtures which helped lead to white South Africans' acceptance of universal suffrage and free elections, such as 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! (Afrikaans: "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 conservative Afrikaners. However, Viljoen reportedly had strained relationships with the leaders of other right-wing parties, who considered him too moderate.
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 paramilitary personnel at his command, with the ability to seize large sections of the country. The force was assembled in preparation for war with Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress, as a potential contingency to protect Afrikaner interests.
In March 1994, Viljoen led an effort by several thousand Volksfront militia to protect the bantustan president, Lucas Mangope, in Bophuthatswana against a coup d'état. Despite being requested not to participate in the action because of extremist views, militants of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging also advanced into Bophuthatswana, sparking clashes with the security forces.
Immediately after the incident, Viljoen split from the Volksfront and initiated a legitimate election campaign, co-founding and becoming leader of the Freedom Front (Vryheidsfront), a new political party representing white conservatives. His decision to take part in the elections is believed to have prevented armed resistance by the far right and on the occasion of his retirement from politics, the South African government recognised him for preventing bloodshed.
Viljoen's decision was at least partly influenced by the mediation of his identical twin brother, Abraham Viljoen (Braam), who was an anti-apartheid activist while his brother led the military.
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 outside Nelson Mandela's Government of National Unity. Although his supporters were at odds with the government and the ANC, Viljoen praised Mandela on the occasion of his retreat from politics in 1999, even ending his Parliamentary speech speaking in Mandela's native language, Xhosa: Go rest in peace. Go rest in the shadow of a tree at your home.
In 2008 Viljoen, aged 74, put up what was described as a spirited fight against two would-be muggers, who were subsequently arrested.
Awards and decorations
- Star of South Africa (SSA)
- Southern Cross Decoration (SD)
- South African Police Star for Outstanding Service (SOE)
- Southern Cross Medal (SM)
- Military Merit Medal (MMM)
- Pro Patria Medal
- Good Service Medal, Gold (30 Years)
- Good Service Medal, Silver (20 Years)
- Permanent Force Good Service Medal
- Order of the Cloud and Banner - with Grand Cordon (2nd Grade) (ORB)(Taiwan)
- Viljoen, Constand Laubscher – The O'Malley Archives
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- "Mandela united a nation seeking national pride". Pressreader. Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition). Retrieved 3 June 2018.
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- "Soweto bombs may have been just a 'dry run'". Independent Online. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "Proving That One Man Can Make a Difference". US News & World Report. Archived from the original on 13 October 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "Viljoen reveals just how close SA came to war". Independent Online. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- Keller, Bill (11 March 1994). "Homeland Leader in South Africa Flees His Capital". New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- Keller, Bill (12 March 1994). "Mixed Signals Fatal for South African Separatists". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
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- "Mbeki thanks Constand Viljoen". News24. Retrieved 29 April 2009.[permanent dead link]
- "Abraham Viljoen: Longtime Campaigner For Black-White Solidarity in South Africa". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "Mediation during the Transition in South Afric". University of South Africa. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "Constand Viljoen to leave SA parliament". BBC. 15 March 2001. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "Was the TAU part of the Boeremag plot?". Independent Online. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
- "Ex-SANDF chief turns tables on muggers". IOL News. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
|Party political offices|
| Leader of the Freedom Front
Dr Pieter Mulder
| Chief of the South African Defence Force
| Chief of the South African Army|
JW van Niekerk
| Officer Commanding South African Army College
| Officer Commanding School of Artillery
| Chief Instructor Gunnery
John Albert Reid Cox