Baffling Koornhof

Piet Koornhof, who died in Stellenbosch on Monday at the age of 82, following a stroke, was a man of contradictions.

Piet Koornhof, who died in Stellenbosch on Monday at the age of 82, following a stroke, was a man of contradictions.

Seen as a "verligte" in successive apartheid-era cabinets, the posts he occupied carried responsibility for some of apartheid's most bizarre and inhumane policies.

In his youth, as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, he authored a doctoral thesis that fully accepted the inevitability of black urbanisation.

Yet he became a member of a government that stamped its authority through the dompas, and sought to dump hundreds of thousands of blacks in the bantustans through forced removals.

And having dedicated his life to the National Party and its policies - which included the hated Immorality Act - when democracy arrived, he moved in with a coloured woman and joined the ANC.

Koornhof was born at Leeudoringstad in what was then the Western Transvaal, and did his schooling in Bloemfontein and Stellenbosch.

He enrolled at Stellenbosch University and had almost completed a degree in theology when he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.

On his return to South Africa in the early sixties, Koornhof worked as researcher for "apartheid architect" Hendrik Verwoerd, then became director of "cultural information " for the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings.

At the same time, he was chief secretary for the secret Afrikaner organisation, the Broederbond. Koornhof was elected to parliament for the Primrose constituency, and went on to hold the cabinet portfolios of mines, sport, and cooperation and development - the portfolio formerly known as "Bantu Affairs".

It fell to his lot as minister of sport in 1973 to announce the Nationalist Party government's new "multi-national sports policy" to a bemused world. "We will have a representative Zulu team and a South African representative Xhosa team, coloured team, Indian team," he explained.

Though some reforms followed - blacks were allowed for the first time to become members of official trade unions, the Immorality Act was scrapped along with the pass laws, and the tricameral parliament was created - they were a far cry from the one man, one vote that would be realised in 1994.

Koornhof went on to become South Africa's ambassador to the United States before retiring from politics.

Reflecting on his father's life, his son Johan said on Tuesday that Koornhof had "reached out" to all races, in the spirit of his strong commitment to Christianity. But at the same time he had a burning desire to serve his people, his "volk".

"I think it was a duality throughout his life," Johan said. "It landed him in big trouble. I think really in his deepest soul he wanted to make a difference, and be good to people, but he was confined to the system. Maybe it's just something about the nature of being a politician."

Koornhof shocked the Afrikaner establishment when he separated from his wife and childhood sweetheart Lulu and moved in with a coloured woman, Marcelle Adams. Adams, who gave birth to two children while they were together, eventually left him for another lover, and Koornhof, now ailing, returned to Lulu in Stellenbosch. He leaves sons Johan and Gerhard, and Lulu.

Koornhof was cremated in Stellenbosch yesterday, according to his son Gerhard. - Sapa