The Dissenting Professor

The assessor who this week alleged irregularities in his dismissal from the Delmas treason trial is an Afrikaner with a long history of opposition to the Nationalist government.

Professor Willem Adolf Joubert, 68, son of a Stellenbosch professor who was a supporter of National Party founder General JBM Hertzog, grew up in a "Nationalist home". On leaving school, he joined the Junior National Party branch at Stellenbosch, headed at that stage by former Prime Minister BJ Vorster. He has since broken that association.

He gives "what support I can afford" to Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, the former Progressive Federal Party leader who broke away from white parliamentary politics. Five years ago Joubert left the white Ned Geref Kerk to join the NG Sendingkerk or Mission Church — the coloured branch which has Dr Allan Boesak as synod moderator. Joubert's disillusionment with the NP policy "where everything was in the party and for the party", however, began in his student days."

During the Second World War he became active in student politics. "I was very strongly opposed to the Smuts government and to the war and on the side of General Hertzog's plea for neutrality. "In those days, you must remember,' South Africa was practically & colonial state. We were fighting British imperialism, British capitalism," he says, hastening to explain that he supports neither capitalism nor socialism, but free enterprise.

The founder and first editor of Stellenbosch University's student newspaper, Die Matie, Joubert said: "As students we were fighting for a new political order." As a young academic and advocate he became a member of the national executive of the South African Bureau of Racial Affairs (Sabra) which he describes at that stage as a group of "enlightened Afrikaners" who were promoting a "liberal apartheid".

In the early Fifties he spoke out strongly against the government's decision to enlarge the Senate in the face of consistent opposition from the appeal court — in order to disenfranchise the coloured people. Joubert made his mark as an intellectual dissenter from the government's racial policies more vocally in 1960, when he delivered a critical paper on the political future of the "homelands" and was "scolded by the establishment and called a second Bishop Reeves" (Bishop Ambrose Reeves was the outspoken bishop of Johannesburg at that time.) A year later his break with the country's rulers became final when he and founding members of Sabra were kicked out of the association after they refused to delay the publication of a report on the social and economic position of coloured people.

Joubert said their ousting was at the direction of the then Prime Minister, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, and the Broederbond. In 1972 Joubert founded a "non-partisan public interest pressure group" called Verligte Action. An alliance of Nationalists, Progressive Party and United Party members, it was an initiative for "enlightened changes to the racial and constitutional structures of South Africa". Joubert, the group's first chairman, said the government had responded to Verligte Action by declaring a national election, and the alliance had quietly disbanded as members went to, canvass for their respective parties.

Joubert was a founder member of the Progressive Federal Party in1977, and, until 1981, the party's Northern Transvaal chair. In the 1981 election — at a time when he was involved in publishing and not attached to any university — he stood as the PFP's candidate in the Waterkloof constituency while his wife, Hulda, stood for the Provincial Council. They were both narrowly defeated.

Today, Joubert — reluctantly in the spotlight because of his ousting from Delmas — is unwilling to be drawn on his political views, preferring to allow his actions to speak for themselves. But he does sum up his beliefs in his report on his dismissal: "My opposition to the policies of apartheid and to white domination has not been in any doubt," he says. "It has not been questioned that I reject apartheid and that I stand for the evolution of a free and democratic country in which oppression and racism will become things of the past. No-one has had reason to doubt that I would give support to any lawful initiatives aimed at securing justice for all of South Africa's people and the creation of a free and stable society."

A fortnight ago Joubert was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Law by the University of the Orange Free State (UOFS) — a distinction which comes towards the end of a long and full academic career. Although he began as a classics scholar, graduating from Stellenbosch University in 1947 with an MA in classics, he chose law as a "very attractive discipline which married academic with practical work". After completing an LLB degree, he obtained his Doctorate in Law, also from Stellenbosch University, in 1950. He was admitted to the bar in 1947 and after lecturing at the University of Potchefstroom, served as dean of the faculties of law at the University of the Orange Free State and the University of South Africa.

He frequently acted as assessor in major trials in Bloemfontein. Joubert has founded and edited many legal publications, of which his most ambitious work was The Law of South Africa, an encyclopaedic work which the UOFS, in its citation for Joubert, describes as the "largest and most impressive publication in the history of South African law".

A provincial tennis player and interprovincial rugby referee in his younger days, Joubert keeps fit by jogging most evenings, usually accompanied by his wife. Hulda Joubert, who has an MA in social work, married Willem Joubert when they were both lecturing at Potchefstroom. She has a daughter from her first marriage and the Jouberts have a daughter. Their son was killed in a car crash some years back while studying law at Stellenbosch.

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