Van Zyl Slabbert 'died peacefully'

2010-05-14 11:31

Johannesburg - Former opposition leader and political analyst Frederik van Zyl Slabbert died at home in Johannesburg on Friday morning, his daughter Tania said.

"He died peacefully, with his family," she told Sapa.

"We are okay," she added.

Slabbert, 70, once viewed as one of South Africa's most gifted public figures, had been admitted to Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital and was reportedly being treated for liver and other problems.

Afrikaner upbringing

Perhaps best remembered for his pioneering work in opening up dialogue between Afrikaners and the exiled African National Congress, he had a conventional Afrikaner upbringing.

He was born in Pretoria on March 2, 1940, and spent his formative years in Pietersburg, now Polokwane, in what is now Limpopo, where he captained his school's first cricket and rugby teams.

He studied for 18 months at the Dutch Reformed Church theological seminary at Stellenbosch University before deciding sociology was his proper calling.

He completed a BA Honours at the university in 1962, and was awarded a doctorate in 1967.

From 1964 to 1973 he lectured in sociology at Stellenbosch, Rhodes and the University of Cape Town.

During this period his interest in the position of the coloured people of the Western Cape led him into confrontation with the National Party, and he joined a multi-racial discussion group named Synthesis which sought to promote black-white dialogue.

In 1973 he was appointed head of the department of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand.


The following year, standing for the Progressive Party (PP), he won the Rondebosch parliamentary seat from the United Party.

He maintained afterwards he had been persuaded to stand only after a hard night's drinking with PP members.

In 1979 he accepted the leadership of the party - by then known as the Progressive Federal Party - and of the official opposition in Parliament, and led the PFP to substantial gains in the 1981 general election.

In 1985 he travelled to Lusaka for talks with the external wing of the ANC and, with Inkatha's Mangosuthu Buthelezi, launched the National Convention Movement in an unsuccessful attempt to pressure the government to negotiate with all political groups.

By this time Slabbert, who was said by one acquaintance to have a "non-existent boredom threshold" was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the tricameral Parliament, which in his view was a hopelessly flawed constitutional experiment.

In February 1986 he publicly announced his resignation from Parliament and the leadership of the PFP, which he had informed of his decision only an hour earlier.

Fellow front-bencher Helen Suzman labelled it betrayal, but he strongly defended his move, saying he refused to be "in the slipstream of the government's repression and incompetence".

His desertion of the PFP sparked criticism that while he had the brains for a politician, he lacked the balls.

"Ja," he responded with a wry smile. "The trouble with this country is you have too many politicians with balls but no brains."

Formed Idasa

In July 1986 Slabbert, with another former PFP MP Alex Boraine, formed the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa).

He became a director of Idasa, and undertook an intricate process of shuttle diplomacy aimed at bringing resistance groups together with influential figures in the white establishment in South Africa.

In July 1987, to the government's fury, he took a group of about 60 influential white South Africans, most of them Afrikaners, to Dakar, Senegal, for talks with an ANC delegation.

In the 1990s he branched out into business, becoming chairperson of Caxton Publishers, Adcorp Holdings and Metro Cash 'n Carry, as well as holding various directorships.

He also in 1990 co-founded Khula, a black investment trust.

In 2002 then-president Thabo Mbeki appointed him to head a team investigating a new electoral system for the country.

Its recommendation, a more accountable mix of constituency-based and proportional representation, was quietly shelved by the government.

Heart attack

Slabbert accepted the position of chancellor of his alma mater, Stellenbosch, in 2008, but at the end of that year suffered a heart attack, and had a pacemaker installed.

The following year he quit the Stellenbosch post, along with his company directorships, in order, he said, to spend more time with his wife and family.

He authored a number of books, including a semi-autobiographical analysis of tricameral politics The Last White Parliament, which appeared in 1992.

In May that year he wrote that his fear was not that there would not be eventual consensus on the principles of a new democratic constitution for South Africa.

"Far more disturbing are the expectations that people have of what a democracy can deliver, and which research shows it is incapable of doing.

"This in the South African context is the real burden of democracy."

He leaves his wife Jane and two adult children, Tania and Riko, from a previous marriage.

Funeral details would be released later.

  • manutius - 2010-05-14 11:41

    My sympathies to his family and friends. He was a man who contributed so much to South Africa. He will be missed for his foresight and logical voice.

  • Antionette - 2010-05-14 11:44

    My sincere condolences to the family. I have always had such high regard for him!! RIP dear Sir

  • kb - 2010-05-14 11:45

    RIP Van Zyl. One of the few true South Africans. Unfortunately a breed that is fast becoming extinct

  • Mollie Kruger - 2010-05-14 11:46

    A great man. Will be dearly missed.

  • Cape Town Fan - 2010-05-14 11:47

    We have a lost a great man.A truly inspiring man. An intelligent man. He will really be missed. Rest in Peace Van Zyl Slabbert. You did well for us.

  • Bryanj - 2010-05-14 11:48

    A sad passing of an exceptionl man with integrit, foresight and wisdom. A pity he could not have been incorporated into the current mainsream of political power in S A, we would havwe been all the better for it. Condolences to his family.

  • greg - 2010-05-14 11:49

    A man who always held the interest of this country close to his heart. A leader is lost.

  • Hakuna Matata - 2010-05-14 11:51

    This was a man that personified integrity. South Africa will dearly miss his calibre of leadership - RIP Van Zyl, you are saluted by all!!

  • Margo - 2010-05-14 11:51

    This is a very sad day for South Africa. Condolences to the family.

  • RG - 2010-05-14 11:52

    A great man...only wished he had stayed on in Parliament...RIP.

  • Gillian - 2010-05-14 11:52

    Thank you Van Zyl Slabbert, you did great things for your country, things that we all benefitted from. In the dark days yours was a comforting voice in the wilderness ...

  • Peter - 2010-05-14 11:54

    RIP Frederick. He should have been our President.

  • Cobus du Plessis - 2010-05-14 11:55

    A great person and politician. Rest in peace, you were one of Africa's truly great Sons. You will be missed.

  • namlion - 2010-05-14 11:59

    Sincere condolences to the family, he was a great man..

  • Gustav Brümmer. - 2010-05-14 12:03

    I salute a Great Man!!!!!!!

  • Lynne - 2010-05-14 12:05

    RIP. It would truly be ablessing if there were more like him on our wonderful country, sicere sympathy to his family and loved ones.

  • Anthony - 2010-05-14 12:09

    he lived as another great man once said "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country"
    Thank you Mr Slabbert and to your family for sharing you with us

  • ex-Matie - 2010-05-14 12:10

    What a loss for S.A. I have always held Van Zyl Slabbert in high regard and believe that he passionately strove to make our country a better place for everyone. We will miss you sorely, Van Zyl. You were one in a million. Sincere condolences to the Slabbert family.

  • Khethiwe - 2010-05-14 12:12

    What a great mind - may his soul rest in peace

  • Rayno - 2010-05-14 12:12

    A South African great has fallen. A man so many South Africans will never know how much they owe to him being a son of this country. RIP Van Zyl. Hamba Kahle. Blessings to the family.

  • Sarah - 2010-05-14 12:13

    An awsome South African figure, we have lost a legend.

  • conrad burke - 2010-05-14 12:15

    Forever young. Forever true.

  • joan - 2010-05-14 12:15

    My condolences to his family, I had great respect for this gentleman.

  • Dessie - 2010-05-14 12:16

    A very dynamic person who left a great impression on many in his time. May he rest in peace. Sympathy to his family and a great loss to SA

  • Neil - 2010-05-14 12:17

    RIP Van Zyl Slabbert you were a true person of our African soil

  • Pieter - 2010-05-14 12:17

    One of the few greate leaders of our country.

  • boni dibate - 2010-05-14 12:17

    I have inderectly benefitted from his heart ans quest for the transformation of South Africa through his work at IDASA in the eighties. MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE!!

  • Andrew - 2010-05-14 12:17

    Rest in peace, may your foresight be part of the future generations

  • trevor - 2010-05-14 12:18


  • Charles Barnard - 2010-05-14 12:19

    In the days of the Nats, Afrikaners were mostly seen as conservative and anti change. Thanks to people like Van Zyl that stereotype was partly put to bed. He was a brilliant man of integrity and made me proud to be called and Afrikaner. My condolances to his family and close ones. As for the comment of little Tshepo, poor Tsepo will be opressed by his lack of insight for the rest of his life - sad but true

  • Wally Bauermeister - 2010-05-14 12:20

    A sad day for South Africa as a man with integrity that many could look up to in contrast with so many so-called leaders today.

  • Skeptic - 2010-05-14 12:20

    We have lost a man with vision and integrity. May his legacy lives on! Condolences to the family. He was great man.

  • Brian - 2010-05-14 12:21

    A truly great man. His contribution to our great land can never be calculated. RIP.

  • Johan - 2010-05-14 12:23

    My South African condolensces to the Van Zyl Slabbert family, you must be very proud.

  • LM - 2010-05-14 12:26

    Surely he had a Golden Heart, not just for a certain group of South Africans, but for ALL! FzZS, You will be missed and our hearts will cherish your good deeds forever. May your soul rest in peace!

  • Mari Hoon - 2010-05-14 12:27

    Nag ou Grote. Jy het jou deel gebring. Rus sag!

  • DNW - 2010-05-14 12:32

    This is a sad day. The contribution Van Zyl Slabbert made in saving South Africa from civil war must not be forgotten.

  • Francois van Wyk - 2010-05-14 12:34

    I agree: a great man who did much for our country.

  • Elize - 2010-05-14 12:34

    Truly a great leader with brains. Always respected him as a politician. RIP. I am sure he must have been traumitised by what is going on here.

  • Sibongiseni - 2010-05-14 12:36

    What a loss to SA! As a little' un it's pity I only know of him now that he is no more. RIP mAfrika, and condolences to his family.

  • Thembinkosi Ngoma - 2010-05-14 12:38

    RIP Mr Van Zyl Slabbert. Thank you for the contribution to our country. Your name will remain forever in the history books of this nation. Jane and Riko...continue where your father left off. Thank you Jane.

  • tshifhiwa - 2010-05-14 12:38

    it s sad but RIP.Your works will always be remembered and we shall follow in your footsteps in order to build a united south africa not seperated according to race

  • SteveD - 2010-05-14 12:38

    Ja - dis 'n jammer dag vir ons. Simpatie aan die familie.

  • Colleen - 2010-05-14 12:39

    Good bye to a true SA patriot. RIP

  • deon - 2010-05-14 12:41

    Ek het altyd my ore gespits as Frederick gepraat het. Hy was een van min na wie jy kon luister. Voorwaar n groot mens.

  • Caroline - 2010-05-14 12:42

    A great man that will be missed my condolences to the family

  • Ams - 2010-05-14 12:42

    RIP. You did a great service to this country. You will be sorely missed. Condolensces to the family.

  • Charles Rose - 2010-05-14 12:43

    Thank you Van Zyl Slabbert what a great leader you should have been president.RIP.

  • Buda Maleps - 2010-05-14 12:43

    Always used to hear the name Frederick van Zyk Slabbert growing up! Certainly one of the few voices for change against the old regime. He played his part. May his soul rest in peace.

  • Jesse - 2010-05-14 12:46

    He was a great man who will be sorely missed. Our current leaders (including Malema, although I don't consider him any kind of leader) can learn huge amounts from him.

    My condolences to the family. You have lost a truly great man who was respected by all.