Piet Koornhof

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Piet Koornhof
South African Ambassador to the United States
In office
1 May 1987 – 6 March 1991
PresidentP. W. Botha
F. W. de Klerk
Preceded byJohannes Beukes
Succeeded byHarry Schwarz
Personal details
Born(1925-08-02)2 August 1925
Leeudoringstad, South Africa
Died12 November 2007(2007-11-12) (aged 82)
Political partyNational

Pieter G. J. Koornhof, DMS (2 August 1925 – 12 November 2007) was a South African politician. As an apartheid-era National Party cabinet minister, he held various portfolios in the cabinets of B.J. Vorster and P.W. Botha, and was later appointed ambassador to the United States. After the end of apartheid, he joined the African National Congress in 2001.

Early life and education[edit]

Piet Koornhof was born on 2 August 1925 in Leeudoringstad in the Western Transvaal. He studied theology at the University of Stellenbosch, and completed his studies at Oxford after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. His doctoral dissertation focussed on the "inevitable urbanisation" of black people in Africa.

Political career[edit]

After returning to South Africa, he joined the National Party in 1956. He became a researcher for Hendrik Verwoerd, the Prime Minister of South Africa, and was appointed director of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge, an institute for the advancement of Afrikaner culture. In 1962, he became secretary of the Afrikaner Broederbond and in 1964 was elected Member of Parliament for Primrose.

In 1968, he became Deputy Minister of Bantu Affairs and Bantu Education in the government of B.J. Vorster. In 1972, he became Minister of Energy and in 1973 combined this post with that of Minister of Sports. In this position, he announced the creation of separate sports teams for different races.

As Minister of Energy from 1972 to 1976, and especially as Minister of Cooperation and Development between 1978 and 1984, Koornhof was involved in the implementation of apartheid laws by the forced removal of thousands of blacks from residential areas declared as white.

He nevertheless launched significant studies into potential constitutional models for South Africa. During this time he was specifically vocal in advocating the Swiss Canton model, in which a heterogeneous population could be governed under a system free of the oppression of any one dominant group that typically plagues a "Winner Takes All" system. After informing PW Botha, the Prime Minister before F. W. de Klerk, that peace in South Africa would arrive only through releasing Nelson Mandela, he was relegated to an insignificant post as Ambassador to the United States.

From 1986 to 1991, he served as South Africa's last ambassador the US who was also a National Party member. While amabassador in the United States he made an important speech at a conference in Palm Springs, Florida in which he foresaw the inevitable demise of Apartheid. His successor as amabassador in Washington was Harry Schwarz, a prominent leader of the Progressive Federal Party Democratic Party.

Throughout his career, Koornhof was seen as a moderate, at least compared to others in the apartheid government, and as a warm, larger than life personality with many contradictions.

Life after politics[edit]

In 1993, he made the headlines when, at the age of 68, he left his wife for a young coloured woman with whom he subsequently had five children.

In the new dispensation that followed non-racial elections in South Africa in 1994, he agreed to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the new South African government and chaired by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu. He was one of the few former apartheid ministers to acknowledge the atrocities committed under their control during apartheid.

In 1998, Piet Koornhof and his son, Gerhard Koornhof, until then members of the National Party, announced that they were joining a new multiracial party, the United Democratic Movement of Bantu Holomisa.

In 2001, he joined the African National Congress.

On several occasions Koornhof's marital problems came to the fore, especially during his 12-year separation from his wife, during which he lived together with his girlfriend. He later returned to his wife.

He died in 2007 at the age of 82 and was cremated in Stellenbosch. He received eulogies from across the political spectrum in South Africa, from his former companions in the National Party, members of the ANC, the United Democratic Movement and the Inkatha Freedom Party.[1]


  1. ^ "Apartheid-era minister Piet Koornhof dead at 82". Mail & Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 November 2007. Retrieved 14 November 2007.

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