Opinion

Magnus Malan dies 'peacefully' at 81

Richard Davies

Former apartheid-era defence minister Magnus Malan died at the age of 81 on Monday morning, his family said.

Former apartheid-era defence minister Magnus Malan died at the age of 81 on Monday morning, his family said.

“General Magnus Malan died peacefully early this morning at home. He leaves his wife of 49 years behind, as well as three children and nine grandchildren,” his family said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how he died.

Malan served as minister of defence from 1980 to 1991, an appointment that followed a long military career—stretching back to the 1950s—in the South African Defence Force. There, he rose through the ranks and was appointed chief of the defence force in 1976.

Malan built up a reputation as a highly competent strategist, and became one of the leading exponents of the “total onslaught” theory against South Africa.

He was born on January 30 1930 in Pretoria, the son of Avril Ire de Merindol, a professor of biochemistry and later an MP and Speaker of the House of Assembly, and Elizabeth Frederika Malan.

After attending the Afrikaans High School in Pretoria, he matriculated at Dr Danie Craven’s Physical Education Brigade in Kimberley in 1948.

He was inspired to join the military, but his father, an academic, advised him to further his education. In 1949 he registered at the University of Stellenbosch for a B. Com degree.

At the end of that year, the first military degree course for officers was advertised and Malan joined the Permanent Force as a cadet, going on to complete his BSc Mil at the University of Pretoria in 1953.

He was commissioned in the navy and served in the marines based on Robben Island. When they were disbanded, he was transferred back into the army as a lieutenant.

During Malan’s military career, he completed 11 courses, including the regular command and general staff officers’ course in the United States during 1962/63.

After several command posts, he became chief of the South African Army in 1973, and Chief of the South African Defence Force in 1976.

In 1980, he was appointed to the Cabinet of PW Botha as minister of defence. The following year was elected National Party MP for Modderfontein.

Malan also rose within National Party ranks, being elected to the Transvaal NP’s executive committee in 1981, and rising to become one of the party’s vice-chairpersons in that province.

In 1991, he became chairperson of the Ministers’ Council in the House of Assembly.

‘Total onslaught’
Malan’s public statements as chief of the SADF dealt mainly with the alleged “total onslaught” against South Africa and the need to develop a “total national strategy” to counteract it at all levels.

He also believed that the answer to South Africa’s problems was ultimately political, not military, in nature.

During Malan’s term as minister of defence, troops were used in the control of unrest in townships.

In 1986, following the introduction of a national state of emergency, he argued that political rights were not a relevant concern among the black South Africans.

In 1987, Malan admitted for the first time that South African troops were supporting Unita in Angola, and were also in that country to counter Swapo and the African National Congress.

In 1988, he and then minister of foreign affairs, Pik Botha, participated in talks on South West Africa (SWA) and Angola on the Cape Verde Islands, and in Brazzaville and Cairo, where they met Angolan representatives.

The talks eventually led to a settlement in both countries, with SWA becoming the independent Namibia under a Swapo government in 1990.

Malan was awarded the following military decorations: Star of South Africa (1975); Southern Cross Decoration (1977); Pro Patria Medal with Cunene Clasp (1977).

During 1990, his position as minister of defence came under threat following public revelations about SADF death squads operating against civilians.

On February 3 1993, Malan retired from politics after 12 years in Parliament.

Malan married Margot van der Walt in 1962. The couple have two sons and a daughter. - Sapa

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