Among tributes paid to retired general Constand Viljoen, who died aged 86 on Friday at his farm in Mpumalanga, is one from the current chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
“He was well-known as a soldier’s soldier and was described by his contemporaries as an outstanding man and a disciplined soldier,” General Solly Shoke said in a statement, adding he was “always forthright and honest”.
In its tribute, the political party he founded the Freedom Front Plus, said: “As a soldier he was highly respected among his peers and subordinates. He was a military leader who believed a general leads from the front and not from behind. He was sometimes criticised for this, but he earned the respect and admiration of his soldiers right down to grassroots level for his approach”.
Viljoen’s military career started in 1956 when he joined the then Union Defence Force after earning his military science degree at the University of Pretoria. In 1974 he was given the post of SA Army Director Operations and subsequently served as principal staff officer for the then Chief of the SA Defence Force. He was appointed Chief of the SA Army in 1977 and succeeded Magnus Malan as SADF Chief in 1980, a post he held until retirement.
His military career is dotted with any number of medals and awards including the Star of South Africa, Southern Cross Decoration, SA Police Star, Military Merit Medal, Pro Patria Medal, Good Service Medal (gold, silver and bronze) as well as parachute wings the master gunner proficiency badge.
FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald’s tribute said, in part, Viljoen “often used his approach to matters military in the political arena”.
“This evoked both positive and negative reactions. Positive, because his planning, strategies and execution of political ideas were extremely valuable, but he sometimes struggled because of his rigid, military style.
“I told him on several occasions in the army, everyone must react immediately and jump to attention when the general gives an order. In politics, however, one does not give orders, one merely makes a request.
“Thus democracy as such was to a certain extent at odds with his military training as democracy does not allow for rigid commands,” Groenewald said.
Condolences also came from President Cyril Ramaphosa. H offered his sincere condolences to Risti Viljoen and the immediate and extended family of the late general, as well as his friends and political associates.
“Gen Viljoen’s principal contribution was his success in demobilising conservative resistance to transition in South Africa at a critical point in our history. He risked alienation by his community and longstanding supporters by mobilising conservative groupings to participate in the political and constitutional negotiations which yielded our democratic dispensation,” said the President in a statement.
Ramaphosa said Viljoen would be remembered for influencing conservative movements into abandoning military resistance to the democratic transition.
“His transition from a military commander to a voice in our democratic Parliament illustrated the inclusive, diverse and tolerant character of our constitutional dispensation and body politic,” said Ramaphosa.