Apartheid-era minister Piet Koornhof dead at 82

An apartheid-era Cabinet minister and a former ambassador to the United States, Piet Koornhof, died in his home town of Stellenbosch on Monday afternoon. He was 82.

Koornhof’s son Johan told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday afternoon that his father had been a “passionate” man who had a “great gusto for life”.

Koornhof was minister of cooperation and development in the early 1980s, and was in charge of forced removals.

In 1981, he declared, among other things: “The resettlement of black people is resorted to in order to ensure their national unity, to protect their ethnic and political interests, and to improve their living conditions and standard of life ... ” according to the Dispatch Online.

Koornhof joined the African National Congress (ANC) in November 2001.

Asked about the forced removals of the past, he said he regretted these, as they had been “wrong”, said the Dispatch.

“He was the consumate politician.
He started in politics and he never left politics. He believed in a non-racial home. On one hand he worked within the system but at the same time he tried to change it. This got him into big trouble with his colleagues and made him unpopular in certain circles,” said his son.

Johan remembers his father taking him into Soweto late at night with no security guards for a meal.

“He had a great sense of humour and could laugh at himself. [He had] a passion for life who wanted to change things,” he said.

Koornhof was born in Leeudoringstad in the Western Transvaal in 1925, and attended the Sentraal High School in Bloemfontein, where he met his wife, Lulu. The pair were head boy and head girl of their high school.

Koornhof obtained his doctorate from Oxford University in social anthropology after winning the Rhodes scholarship. He studied theology at Stellenbosch University.

“He was a great dad and we had great times with him. His enthusiasm for life wrapped [around] us,” his son said.


African National Congress (ANC) spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama expressed his condolences.

“We express our condolences to the family and friends of Koornhof. He joined the ANC with the background that he had as an apartheid minister. He took a bold decision which means that in his heart of hearts he was regretful of the past. The ANC appreciated this gesture and that statement on its own sent a good message and a sign of reconciliation to the people,” said Ngonyama.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) expressed its sadness in a media statement.

“The DA offers its sincere condolences to Mr Koornhof’s family and friends at this sad time.”

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