Denis Worrall's self-applause in The Independent Factor is hard to swallow

10 March 2019 - 00:00 By Chris Barron

In 1986 apartheid's most eloquent spokesman Denis Worrall gave up his cushy job as ambassador in London and returned to SA to take on one of the government's most senior cabinet ministers, Chris Heunis, as an independent candidate in the 1987 elections on an anti-apartheid ticket.
Unburdened by any sense of irony he strode into his packed-out meetings to the soundtrack of Chariots of Fire, told whites to tell the world that "the days of apartheid are over" and came within 39 votes of defeating Heunis.
It was a game changer in white South African politics, leading to the formation of the Democratic Party which won 30% of the Afrikaner vote in the 1989 elections and reduced the Nats to less than 50%.
Worrall takes full credit. Given his role in supporting and promoting the party and policy which brought the country to the brink of destruction, his relentless self applause in this book is hard to swallow. He had decided that apartheid was SA's best hope while doing his doctorate in political science at Cornell university in the US, and that he wanted to be part of making it work.
And so in the mid-'60s while others went to jail for their opposition to apartheid he went to the Union Buildings to meet the architect of apartheid, HF Verwoerd, whom he found "charming, with a nice sense of humour", and his feared justice minister John Vorster, whose 180-day (renewable) detention-without-trial law was destroying lives as they spoke.
In the early '70s after lecturing in politics at the universities of Natal, Unisa, Wits and Rhodes he successfully propositioned the then prime minister Vorster for a job as a National Party senator. Vorster, presumably deciding he could use this charismatic, silver-tongued young intellectual to attract the English-speaking vote, obliged and the two became friends and chess partners.
"He was a jokey character who enjoyed a laugh and put oodles of apricot jam over our post-chess supper of fried eggs, bacon and sausages," writes Worrall, who clearly had a strong stomach in more ways than one.
Much as he tries to distance himself from its murderous policies and practices, Worrall saw the Nats as the best vehicle for his political ambitions and didn't let moral qualms - there's not much evidence he had any - get in the way.
In the late '70s then president PW Botha appointed him to head the constitutional committee of the President's Council which recommended the incorporation of coloureds and Indians but excluded the black majority with predictable and disastrous consequences. The subsequent establishment of the Tricameral Parliament in 1983 triggered an unprecedented wave of violence across the country.
Worrall was rewarded with ambassadorial posts in Australia and London, where he sold a largely mythical reform programme to prime minister Margaret Thatcher until giving up and coming home...

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.