Dawie de Villiers was born on 10 July 1940 in Burgersdorp, one of three children of Elsa and Coenie de Villiers. Dawie’s father was a railway clerk, organiser for the National Party (NP), and Member of Parliament for Vasco from 1953 to 1961. The De Villiers family moved to Caledon and after his first year of schooling they moved to Bellville. He matriculated from Bellville High School in 1959.
In 1960 he began studies at the University of Stellenbosch where he completed an undergraduate degree in Theology and an Honours in Philosophy. He was the 1962-3 chair of the Student Representative Council. He was opposed to the traditional politics of the National Party, was regarded as leftist by his peers and was named in the Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger, in an article condemning those with a ‘radical’ stance against the NP. By this stage his father was a Cabinet Minister. Young De Villiers was an active participant within the ranks of the NP at university, serving on the NP Student Committee.
De Villiers also excelled in rugby (scrumhalf position) and became involved in all levels of the sport, including representing South Africa in 25 test matches and administration at top level. His first international test match was in 1962 against the British Lions, when aged 22. In 1976 he captained the ‘Springboks’ in New Zealand.
In 1963-1964 he held a temporary lecturing post in philosophy at the University of the Western Cape and was awarded the Abe Bailey and Markotter scholarships. On completing his theology degree he was the minister of the Wellington Dutch Reformed Church, from 1967 to 1969. He then lectured at Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). In 1972 he completed an MA in philosophy and received an overseas scholarship. The RAU rector, Gerrit Viljoen, persuaded him at this time to become active in politics. Against his father’s wishes De Villiers became MP for Johannesburg West and kept his seat in the elections of 1974 and 1977. During this period he was the RAU Convocation President and Chair of the NP’s Foreign Affairs Committee. The University of Stellenbosch awarded De Villiers a philosophy doctorate in 1979.
In April 1979 De Villiers became the South African Ambassador in London. On his return in October 1980 he became Minister of Trade and Industry. The following year he contested the Gardens constituency in Cape Town, but lost to Ken Andrews of the Progressive Federal Party. He subsequently became the MP for Piketberg, Cape Town. While he was the Minister of Trade and Industry, the Liquor Act was passed which desegregated South African bars (at owners’ discretion) and the South African Tourist Board was established. In 1983 he called a commission to investigate monopolies, and he stimulated small business in rural and ‘homeland’ areas. In 1989 he became Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs, and of Public Enterprises as well as Cape NP leader.
During the Groote Schuur talks with the ANC, and at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) talks, he was one of the NP delegates.
De Villiers is married to Suzaan Mangold and they have three daughters and a son.
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