Roelof Petrus (Roelf) Meyer was born in Port Elizabeth on 16 July 1947, the son of Hudson and Hannah Meyer. His father was a farmer in the Humansdorp district in what is today the Eastern Cape.
In 1964 he matriculated at the Ficksburg High School, and he went on to study for his B Comm and LLB degrees at the University of the Free State. As a student, he became active in politics.
Meyer practiced as an attorney in Pretoria and Johannesburg until 1980, a year after he became a Member of Parliament for the National Party (NP). Until his retirement from politics in 2000, he played an important and often prominent role in South African politics. His positions included Deputy Minister of Law and Order and of Constitutional Development (1986 to 1991) and Minister of Defence, of Communication and of Constitutional Affairs (1991-1996).
In May 1992 he formed part of the government delegation at talks with the ANC at Groot Schuur, Cape Town. He was the government’s chief negotiator in constitutional negotiations and established an effective working relationship with the ANC’s chief negotiator, Cyril Ramaphosa. The negotiations between Ramaphosa and Meyer paved the way for the first fully democratic elections in 1994, after which Meyer continued in his post as Minister of Constitutional Affairs in the Cabinet of the new President, Nelson Mandela.
In 1996 Meyer retired as a Member of Parliament and as the Gauteng leader of the National Party. The next year, he was the co-founder, with former Transkeian leader Bantu Holomisa, of the United Democratic Movement (UDM). In the 1999 the UDM received seats in Parliament and Meyer served as the Deputy President of the party until his retirement from politics in 2000.
Meyer also held a number of international positions, including a membership of the Strategy Committee of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition at Harvard University in the USA, as well as the 2001 Tip O’Neill Chair in Peace Studies at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. He also became the Chairman of the Civil Society Initiative (CSI) of South Africa. The CSI is an apolitical initiative that aims to realise the full potential of civil society by improving the lives of South Africans, and in 2000 he also involved himself in corporate business. In 2001 he became a Director and later Deputy Executive Chairman of TILCA Infrastructure Corporation
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