Constand Viljoen

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Constand Viljoen
Constand Viljoen 1984.jpg
Viljoen in 1984
Leader of the Freedom Front
In office
1 March 1994 – 26 June 2001
Preceded byParty established
Succeeded byPieter Mulder
Member of Parliament
In office
PresidentNelson Mandela
Thabo Mbeki
Personal details
Constand Laubscher Viljoen

(1933-10-28)28 October 1933[1]
Standerton, Transvaal, Union of South Africa
Died3 April 2020(2020-04-03) (aged 86)
Ohrigstad, Limpopo, South Africa
Political partyFreedom Front Plus (1994–2001)
Other political
National Party (pre-1994)
Spouse(s)Christina "Ristie" Heckroodt (1935-2021)
RelationsBraam Viljoen (twin brother)

Andries Carel Viloen 1889-1947 (father)

Geesie Maria Viloen nëe Kotzé 1905-1990 (mother)
Alma materUniversity of Pretoria
OccupationSoldier and farmer
Military service
AllegianceSouth Africa
Branch/serviceSouth African Army
Years of service1956–1985
Unit4 Field Regiment
CommandsChief of the South African Defence Force
Chief of the Army
Director General Operations
South African Army College
School of Artillery[2]
Director of Artillery
Battles/warsSouth African Border War
Operation Savannah
AwardsStar of South Africa
Southern Cross Decoration
South African Police Star for Outstanding Service
Southern Cross Medal
Military Merit Medal
Order of the Cloud and Banner with Grand Cordon (China)

General Constand Laubscher Viljoen, SSA, SD, SOE, SM, MMM (28 October 1933 – 3 April 2020) was a South African military commander and politician. He co-founded the Afrikaner Volksfront (Afrikaner People's Front) and later founded the Freedom Front (now Freedom Front Plus).[3] He is partly credited with having prevented the outbreak of armed violence by disaffected white South Africans prior to post-apartheid general elections.[4]

Military service[edit]

Viljoen matriculated at Standerton High School in 1951.[5] 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.[5] 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.[6]: xv 

Angolan service[edit]

Viljoen was the senior SADF military officer directing Operation Savannah in 1975. He is also credited with having planned the first major airborne assault in South African military history, Cassinga, a raid carried out against SWAPO insurgents.[7] Despite his rank, Viljoen was present during the battle,[8] offering what was described as a "swashbuckling" front-line leadership, which won him the respect of many fellow Afrikaners.[9]

Political career[edit]

Viljoen is credited by some with having made 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!").[10]

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.[11]

Bophuthatswana action and decision to contest elections[edit]

Immediately prior to the 1994 general 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.[12][13] The force was assembled in preparation for war with Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), as a potential contingency to protect Afrikaner interests.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

Immediately after the incident, Viljoen split from the Volksfront[17] and initiated a legitimate election campaign,[18] 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.[19]

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.[20][21]

In post-apartheid South Africa[edit]

In the 1994 general 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 and have yourself a well-earned rest. Go rest in the shadow of a tree at your home.[22][failed verification][23]

In 2001, Viljoen handed over the leadership of the Freedom Front to Pieter Mulder and retired from politics, citing his frustration working with a parliament dominated by the ANC.[24]

After retirement[edit]

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.[25]

In 2008 Viljoen, aged 74, put up what was described as a spirited fight against two would-be muggers, who were subsequently arrested.[26]


Current Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald announced on 3 April 2020 that Viljoen had died on his farm in Ohrigstad, Limpopo. He was 86 and was surrounded by his children. Viljoen died of natural causes.[27]

He is survived by his wife Christina Susanna Heckroodt, four sons and a daughter.[28]

Awards and decorations[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Viljoen, Constand Laubscher". O'Malley. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  2. ^ "School of Artillery". South African Gunner (PDF). p. 9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 June 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  3. ^ "The Who, Why and What of South Africa's Minority Afrikaner Party". The Conversation. 3 April 2020. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  4. ^ "Gen. Constand Viljoen". Boerevolkstaat. 16 May 2011. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  5. ^ a b Segar, Sue (1 June 2014). "Former SA Defence Force Chief General Constand Viljoen Fears for Democracy in South Africa, but He Wouldn't Live Elsewhere". The Sunday Independent – via PressReader.
  6. ^ Hamann, Hilton (2001). "Introduction". Days of the Generals. Cape Town: Zebra Press (Struck Publishers). ISBN 1-86872-340-2.
  7. ^ "Apartheid Brass Blamed for Cassinga Massacre". Mail Guardian. 2 November 1998. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  8. ^ "Battle of Cassinga Still Rages". IOL. 19 May 2007. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  9. ^ Keller, Bill (6 May 1993). "South African Rightists Rally Behind Ex-Generals". New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  10. ^ "Mandela United a Nation Seeking National Pride". Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition). 11 May 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2018 – via PressReader.
  11. ^ Waldmeir, Patti (1998). "13: Battling for the Right". Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-8135-2582-2.
  12. ^ Battersby, John; Hooper-Box, Caroline; Gifford, Gill (2 November 2002). "Soweto Bombs May Have Been Just a 'Dry Run'". IOL News. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  13. ^ Boroughs, Don (16 May 1999). "Proving That One Man Can Make a Difference: Mandela Proudly Bows out of Politics". US News & World Report. Archived from the original on 13 October 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  14. ^ Du Preez, Max (25 March 2001). "Viljoen Reveals Just how Close SA Came to War". IOL. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  15. ^ Keller, Bill (11 March 1994). "Homeland Leader in South Africa Flees His Capital". New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  16. ^ Keller, Bill (12 March 1994). "Mixed Signals Fatal for South African Separatists". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  17. ^ Cohen, Tom (13 March 1994). "South Africa Takes Control Of Homeland – Bophuthatswana's Ruler Removed To Open Up Election". The Seattle Times. Associated Press. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  18. ^ Keller, Bill (13 March 1994). "A Homeland's Agony". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  19. ^ "Mbeki Thanks Constand Viljoen". News24. 15 March 2001. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  20. ^ Battersby, John (28 October 1993). "Abraham Viljoen: Longtime Campaigner For Black-White Solidarity in South Africa". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  21. ^ Kotzé, Dirk (1995). "Mediation During the Transition in South Africa". University of South Africa. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  22. ^ McGreal, Chris (27 March 1999). "Foes Pay Tribute as Mandela Begins Long Goodbye". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  23. ^ Analysis by John Blake. "Analysis: How the Nelson Mandela's example of radical empathy can help the US today". CNN. Retrieved 9 June 2022.
  24. ^ "Constand Viljoen to Leave SA Parliament". BBC News. 15 March 2001. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  25. ^ "Was the TAU Part of the Boeremag Plot?". IOL. 31 October 2003. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  26. ^ "Ex-SANDF Chief Turns Tables on Muggers". IOL. South African Press Association. 18 May 2008. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  27. ^ du Toit, Pieter (3 April 2020). "General Constand Viljoen, Former SADF Commander and Political Leader, Dies at 86". News24. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  28. ^ du Toit, Pieter (3 April 2020). "General Constand Viljoen Passes Away Aged 86". News24. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Riddle, Samantha (3 April 2020). "Freedom Front Plus Founding Leader General Constand Viljoen Dies".
Party political offices
New title
New Party
Leader of the Freedom Front
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Chief of the South African Defence Force
Succeeded by
Chief of the South African Army
Preceded by GOC I South African Corps
Succeeded by
Maj Gen Ian Gleeson
Preceded by Director of Artillery
1972 – 1973
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Brig LL Gordon
Diector Management Services
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Col JW van Niekerk
OC South African Army College
Succeeded by
Preceded by OC School of Artillery
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Instructor Gunnery
Succeeded by
Maj John Albert Reid Cox
Honorary titles
Preceded by
WO1 Robbie Graham
48th Master Gunner
Succeeded by
Cmdt Piet Uys