Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Vorster, Balthazar Johannes (1915–1983)

South African apartheid leader, prime minister (1966–1978), and president (1978–1979). Born in Jamestown, South Africa, on 13 December 1915, the son of an Afrikaner sheep farmer, Balthazar Johannes "John" Vorster studied law at South Africa's Stellenbosch University, graduating in 1938. After briefly clerking for a judge, he took up practice as an attorney. During World War II he was interned for more than two years because of his pro-Nazi sympathies.

In the 1953 all-white elections, Vorster was elected to parliament on the Nationalist Party ticket. In 1961 he was appointed minister of justice and of social welfare and pensions. As such, he organized a crackdown on the rising tide of black opposition to his government's apartheid plans. His suppression methods included detention without trial and the use of anticommunist legislation to quash government opposition.

After Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd's 1966 assassination, Vorster became the National Party leader and prime minister. His term in office was marked by a significant shift to the Right as his government tried to cope with deepening international isolation, the threat of sanctions, and the rising anger of the black majority. In July 1971 Vorster caused an international controversy when he announced that South Africa had acquired uranium-enrichment technology. Suspicions that South Africa possessed a nuclear bomb increased in the summer of 1977, following the alleged detection by Soviet satellites of a nuclear testing facility in the Kalahari Desert. Vorster's government never provided an explanation on the nature of the facility.

Pragmatic in his approach to foreign affairs, Vorster sought to end South Africa's estrangement from its regional neighbors. In 1974, under pressure from the United States, he convinced Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith to accept that minority rule would end there. In 1976, again under pressure from the Americans, Vorster agreed that South African troops should enter wartorn Angola, marking the beginning of South Africa's twenty-year involvement in the Angolan Civil War.

The Angolan war strengthened the position of the military in South African politics and weakened Vorster's party position. In 1978 he was elected president, but he was forced to resign in 1979 because of a political scandal involving allegations of misappropriation of funds. Vorster died in Cape Town on 10 September 1983.

Peter Vale


Further Reading
D'Olivera, John. Vorster: The Man. Johannesburg: Ernest Stanton, 1977.; O'Meara, Dan. Forty Lost Years. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997.
 

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