“Cyril’s eyes lit up.” Roelf Meyer, Francois Venter, the Afrikaner Broederbond and the decision to abandon "group rights" in favour of a "regstaat" (constitutional state)

Monday, 7 May, 2012 - 15:00

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Political division within Afrikanerdom in the early 1980s hit the Broederbond as hard as it hit all other Afrikaner institutions.  The establishment of the Tricameral Parliament was a turning-point not only because it precipitated uprisings in the African townships, but also because the establishment of the Conservative Party under Andries Treurnicht irrevocably divided Afrikaners against themselves.   Afrikaners had a long history of fractiousness, but the attainment of political power after 1948 focused their unity, despite intense internal debate and occasional small afskilferings (breakaways) to the left or the right.  The word Afrikanerdom came to refer explicitly to Afrikaner state power and the party held most of the factions together.  In 1982, Afrikanerdom split decisively down the middle.  The Broederbond was equally split.  Carel Boshoff, the conservative chair of the Broederbond Executive Council (Uitvoerende Raad) was obliged to resign in 1983. Thereafter, the monthly Broederbond Circulating Letters (Omsendbriewe), which were read aloud at local meetings, carried a drumroll of resignations.  It was 1985 before Pieter de Lange, the newly elected chair was able to restore a modicum of order to the organization and to bring back focus to its deliberations.  De Lange, who was rector at the Rand Afrikaans University, returned the organization to a reformist path that had been pioneered by Gerrit Viljoen (ironically enough de Lange’s predecessor at RAU).  Viljoen had seen the writing on the wall in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising in 1976,  but his replacement as Broederbond chair by Andries Treurnicht and then Carel Boshoff kept the organization firmly within the “confederation of separate states” Verwoerdian constitutional mode.  As the townships exploded in 1984, de Lange inherited a rudderless organization and worked hard (eventually full-time) to give it a new direction.  

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