Abraham Viljoen: Longtime Campaigner For Black-White Solidarity in South Africa

NO the face of it, the Viljoen twins live in very different political worlds.

While Gen. Constand Viljoen is a professional soldier and heads the right-wing Afrikaner People's Front, identical twin Abraham (Braam) Viljoen works for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa. The IDASA is a pro-democracy lobbying group founded by former Liberal opposition leader Frederik van Zyl Slabbert after he quit Parliament in 1986 to try to bring Afrikaners and the African National Congress (ANC) closer together.

While Constand was rising through the ranks to become chief of the formidable South African Defense Force (SADF) from 1980-85, Braam was involved in anti-apartheid activities.

In 1987, Braam traveled with Mr. Slabbert to Dakar, Senegal, for a historic clandestine meeting with then-outlawed ANC leaders. Later, he joined the underground resistance in the black homeland of KwaNdebele, where he came into open confrontation with the security forces under his brother's command.

Yet the momentous events in South Africa over the past four years have thrown these twin brothers into a closer relationship in their efforts to secure a place for Afrikaners in the black-majority government to come.

Braam was instrumental in bringing his brother together with ANC President Nelson Mandela in mid-August in a bid to find a negotiated solution to the residual conflict between the ANC and right-wing Afrikaners bent on resisting majority rule.

MANY times, Constand and Braam's friends have greeted the wrong brother.

But despite the vast gulf in their politics, Braam seems to understand his brother and shares his love of farming and his deep concern for the future of their country.

They also share a concern that the ideology of communism, though outmoded and disgraced in much of the world, will gain a foothold here.

``Constand was influenced by his training in the military,'' Braam said in a Monitor interview in his tiny Pretoria office from which he directed the Northern Transvaal Peace Committee before joining IDASA several months ago.

``Constand formed his opinions during the McCarthy era [of the 1950s], when there was a worldwide obsession with communism. That is why he could return so glibly to this theme of anticommunism.''

``In a way, I think he is right,'' Abraham continues. ``Because of historical circumstances, this is the only country in the world where communism has a chance.''

It was a backlash among whites that lured his brother out of retirement to lead the Afrikaner Volksfront (see accompanying story). Braam says: ``[President Frederik] de Klerk has lost his way and has followed the agenda of the international community - doing things that he was not prepared for.''

Negotiations would have been more successful if there had been two strong negotiating parties, Braam says. ``I have no trust in the ability of De Klerk to conduct negotiations - he is already on his knees,'' he says, using the same words his brother might, but from a different perspective.

While Braam perhaps has more empathy with the victims of apartheid's oppression than his brother does, he has come to believe that a lasting settlement can be reached only between two strong negotiating partners - not among smaller parties that do not have proven support.

The rebellion by black youths and the white backlash have made the negotiating process unpredictable, Braam says: ``We need change but we need control; that is why my brother has so much support right now. There is a white backlash against the breakdown of law and order. I think he will ensure that the voice of the right-wing will be heard and will be in a position to put its demands more forcefully.''

After years studying and lecturing on theology, Braam ran unsuccessfully for Parliament as a liberal Progressive Federal Party candidate. Then he became involved in a controversy over his farm in northern Transvaal in 1988.

Pretoria wanted to re-incorporate it into the black homeland of KwaNdebele. In resisting the re-incorporation of his farm, Braam and a small group of colleagues found themselves deeply involved with the underground resistance in KwaNdebele by those inhabitants who opposed Pretoria-style independence.

Their resistance was successful.

``I was proud to have participated in the struggle with the true Ndebele leaders,'' Viljoen says.

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