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Brothers in war and peace: Constand and Abraham Viljoen and the birth of the new South Africa

Brothers in war and peace: Constand and Abraham Viljoen and the birth of the new South Africa

Opposite characters, the twins Abraham and Constand Viljoen were brothers in war and peace and played a crucial role during the the birth of the new South Africa.

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Title: Brothers in war and peace
Subtitle: Constand and Abraham Viljoen and the birth of the new South Africa.
Author: Dennis Cruywagen
Genre: Biography
Publisher: Random House Struik
Imprint: Zebra Press
Cape Town, South Africa 2014
ISBN 9781770226005 / ISBN 978-1-77022-600-5
Softcover, 15 x 23 cm, 272 pages, numerous photographs


A man with a voracious appetite for news, Mandela was closely following the rise of the Afrikaner right wing. Knowing that right-wingers occupied key positions in the civil service from which they could cause chaos in society, he regarded them as fearsome enemies and was acutely aware that they could scupper negotiations for democracy. But that all changed when Abraham Viljoen, a former lecturer at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and an academic regarded as a leftist, had prevailed upon former student Carl Niehaus to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the ANC president. Mandela was intrigued by the possibilities inherent in the request. It would be no ordinary meeting, for Abraham was the identical twin brother of the former head of the South African Defence Force (SADF), General Constand Viljoen.

At this first meeting Abraham talked about involving those Afrikaners who were not part of the political negotiations, those seen as part of a lunatic fringe. He thought that the threat from this group could be addressed if the ANC met with his brother and other like-minded leaders to the right of the ruling National Party. Abraham offered to broker these discussions, which, if they ever came off, would not form part of the official constitutional negotiations. Of all the groups on the right, he considered the Afrikaner Volksfront, formed by Constand Viljoen and a few other generals in May 1993, the most dangerous. He knew General Viljoen wielded great influence in the SADF and was concerned that if a civil war broke out, an ANC government would not be able to use the army.

Abraham had no inkling of these concerns; neither did he know that Mandela had been secretly informed of the right wing's plans for armed rebellion. All Mandela said was, 'Go ahead. It's on.' With these words, a series of secret meetings between the ANC and the right wing commenced, and South Africa was pulled back from the brink of civil war. Not much is known about these covert negotiations in which Abraham and Constand Viljoen played a decisive role, one that demanded they cross the political divide that had estranged them to become Mandela's partners in peace. Not much is known about the early life and family history of the Viljoen twins, or about how they came to follow such different paths. Brothers in war and peace: Constand and Abraham Viljoen and the birth of the new South Africa, tells their story.

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