Dawie de Villiers remembered for political role spanning apartheid and democracy

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Dawie de Villiers during the opening ceremony of the Springbok Experience museum at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town on 27 March 2013. (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)
Dawie de Villiers during the opening ceremony of the Springbok Experience museum at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town on 27 March 2013. (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)
  • Dawie de Villiers was a leading sportsman and a politician. 
  • De Villiers, who died on Saturday, served in various ministerial roles in the apartheid government and in former president Nelson Mandela's post-1994 Cabinet. 
  • He will be remembered as a man who stood on the right side of history, says former Cabinet minister Leon Wessels. 

Dawie de Villiers, his incredible sporting career notwithstanding, is also being remembered for his political career spanning decades, which saw him serve in ministerial roles during apartheid and in democratic South Africa. 

His death was announced on Sunday. He was 81.

He died following a long illness, his family said. 

Following the end of his sporting career, which included captaining the Springboks, De Villiers served as an academic and as a politician. 

He was a lecturer in philosophy at the Rand Afrikaans University in the 1970s until he was persuaded to explore a political career. 

His political career started with him serving as a member of Parliament for Johannesburg west from 1974 to 1977. 

De Villiers later served as a South African ambassador to the UK until 1979. 

He was appointed as a minister of trade and industry in 1980. 

His other ministerial roles included minister of minerals and energy and minister of public enterprises. 

He also served as a leader for the National Party in the Western Cape. 

READ: Former Springbok captain Dawie de Villiers dies

A former fellow Cabinet member, Leon Wessels, told News24 on Sunday that he first met De Villiers in the 1970s when he was a student and De Villiers an academic. 

Wessels said little did he know they would later serve in government together. 

Wessels tracked De Villiers' political career and described it as instrumental. 

He remembered his former colleague as a man who was against the "impact of the apartheid government" despite serving in various roles within that regime. 

Wessels said:

Dawie was always on the side, in the internal squabbles of the National Party, of the camp that advanced transformation and democratisation. He was a known trouble-maker at the time. There was no doubt, at the time, that he was deeply disturbed by the tragedies in South Africa and the hardships inflicted by the regime at the time.

De Villers played a crucial role in the early 1990s when he was part of the National Party delegation at the Codesa negotiations, Wessels said. 

The two served as part of the National Assembly, chaired by now President Cyril Ramaphosa, which drafted the Constitution. 

De Villiers served his last years in the government, alongside former president Nelson Mandela, as a minister of environmental affairs and tourism from 1994 to 1996. 

Wessels recalled Mandela's comment about De Villiers: "Mandela commented on Dawie saying he was a competent South African who played a major part in building a democratic process for the country."

Wessels said his former colleague should be remembered as a man who stood on the right side of history at a difficult period for the country. 

"He did not hesitate to advance the democratisation of South Africa." 

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel, who served alongside De Villiers in Mandela's first Cabinet, said he remembered him as a "friendly" person.

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