Full funeral honours for late state president

The last non-executive state president from the apartheid era, Marais Viljoen, was buried on Saturday with the full honours reserved for South African statesmen.

At a funeral service in Pretoria preceding a private burial ceremony, his daughter Elna Meijers described him as a man for all seasons who lived his life with passion.

Viljoen, who died last Thursday in the Muelmed hospital, was laid to rest in the Presidents’ Acre in Bloemfontein. He was 91.

“My father was a true patriot and a humble man who lived his life with passion,” Meijers told the media before the service in the Pretoria East Dutch Reformed Church.

She said she was happy that he had been given a state funeral. “He was buried with dignity, just as he had lived his life with dignity.”

A former colleague of Viljoen’s, former Transvaal administrator Dr Willem Cruywagen, said Viljoen did everything with finesse.
“I will remember him as the correct one,” 85-year-old Cruywagen said. “He was a very loyal person and everything he did carried a stamp of quality.”

Dutch Reformed minister Martiens Swart told the mourners that Viljoen’s life was a message and a sermon. “He fulfilled two important principles: to celebrate what you have and to make a difference,” Swart said.

Viljoen’s grandson, Viljoen Meijers, said his grandfather’s love for his country could be seen in the way he served it. He said his grandfather always treated everybody with respect. “His handshake was always sincere and he treated everybody with respect. It was a privilege to know him.”

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the media that Viljoen was given a state funeral because the people of South Africa have “moved on”. Asked what African National Congress (ANC) members had thought of Viljoen, she replied: “I didn’t ask them.”

Father figure

Former state president FW de Klerk, who attended the service with his wife, Elita, said he had known Viljoen for most of his life. “He was a great friend of my father’s and was a father figure for me as well,” De Klerk said after the memorial service.

He said Viljoen supported the new South Africa. “He was of the old school, but he supported the changes we made to government. He fully supported the new South Africa.”

Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha said Viljoen tried to reach out to all the people of South Africa while he was president. He would remember Viljoen as the “finest gentleman who never lost his temper”.

Botha welcomed the fact that Viljoen had been given a state funeral, saying it showed that the leaders of the country were not overcome by bitterness. “It shows that there is true statesmanship in the ANC and that the leaders are not overcome by hatred and bitterness.”

Viljoen’s coffin, draped with the South African flag, was taken to the Waterkloof air-force base where it was loaded on to a Hercules C130 cargo airplane. The National Ceremonial Guard saluted the coffin carried by the top brass of the South African National Defence Force.

Accompanied by family and friends, it was flown to the Bloemspruit air-force base outside Bloemfontein, where the coffin was handed over to the family for a private funeral in the Presidents’ Acre. Three other non-executive presidents—CR Swart, Jim Fouche and Nic Diederichs—have been buried in the same acre.

Viljoen was laid to rest under two white stinkwood trees, next to his wife, Marietjie, who died in October last year.

Among those attending was the 79-year-old daughter of Swart, Dalena Visser.

Viljoen served as non-executive state president between 1979 and 1984. He was succeeded by PW Botha, who became the country’s first executive state president. Botha died in October last year. His family declined an offer of a state funeral.—Sapa

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