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How the Broederbond’s tentacles penetrated deep into...

Defend Truth


How the Broederbond’s tentacles penetrated deep into the heart of South Africa


John Matisonn is a former senior United Nations elections official, Independent Broadcasting Authority councillor, and long-time political and foreign correspondent. He is the author of Cyril’s Choices, An Agenda for Reform; and God, Spies and Lies, Finding South Africa’s Future Through its Past.

Below the top political jobs, the Broederbond worked through multiple clandestine processes to ensure appointments in the civil service, the judiciary, politics, academia, the church, the police, city councils, town clerks, MPs, sports associations and the all-important Bantu Administration Boards that regulated life in the black townships.

DA policy head Gwen Ngwenya has come under attack by prominent Stellenbosch historian Professor Hermann Giliomee and Jan Bosman, the secretary of the present Afrikanerbond (the successor to the Afrikaner Broederbond), for characterising the ANC’s cadre deployment as “the Africanisation of the Broederbond”.

Both men make the revisionist claim, in Politicsweb and Rapport, that the Afrikaner Broederbond (AB) did not influence appointments or help less qualified loyalists get jobs over better qualified non-members. 

Bosman went further, dismissing the investigative reporters who sacrificed their safety to disclose the Broederbond’s outsized role as motivated by “personal grievances”, and Ngwenya’s use of their books as “not proper research”.  

Giliomee avoided such offensive and inaccurate slurs, but rejected many of her claims as “without evidence”, swatting away reports that people’s careers were upended as “a few dissidents [who] expressed mainly moderate criticisms and were sidelined because of that”.

In fact, the evidence shows that the Broederbond operated far more effectively than Luthuli House’s deployment committees, that its jobs influence was infused with ideology and that it helped members into jobs across a far broader front than the civil service, though it did that too.

Hendrik Verwoerd

Dr Hendrik Verwoerd described its mission in 1942.

“The AB must gain control of everything it can lay its hands on in every walk of life in SA. Members must help each other to gain promotion in the civil service or any other field of activity in which they work with a view to working themselves into important administrative positions.”

Its first chairman, Henning Klopper, declared victory in a speech after 20 years in power. By this time the Speaker in Parliament, Klopper said the Broederbond “has given the country its governments. It has given the country every Nationalist prime minister since 1948. It has given us the republic, even though indirectly. It has given us two state presidents. 

“We support the state, we support the church, we support every big movement born from the nation. 

“Every time, a leader could be chosen for the nation from the ranks of the Broederbond. When we lost Dr Malan, we had advocate Strijdom. When death claimed him we had Dr Verwoerd.” 

The Broederbond had supplied then Prime Minister John Vorster and would supply his successor, Klopper continued. “The AB gives leadership in every facet and sphere… Everywhere Broeders are manning the frontlines.

“Ask the people of Rhodesia. The republic is behind us. And who is the republic? It is the Broeders of the Broederbond.”

Charles Bloomberg

Charles Bloomberg, the first journalist to break the organisation’s secrecy and its most scholarly author, dissected its achievements. 

“Among the AB proposals adopted by the party are Christian-nationalism as the movement’s official ideology, the conversion of SA from a monarchy to an independent republic outside the Commonwealth, rigid parallel development of the races, and the Afrikanerisation [of other sectors].” 

Below the top political jobs, the Broederbond worked through multiple clandestine processes to ensure appointments in the civil service, the judiciary, politics, academia, the church, the police, city councils, town clerks, MPs, sports associations and the all-important Bantu Administration Boards that regulated life in the black townships. 

The way the Broederbond did it was shrewd, subtle, clandestine and all-encompassing. Honed by years of evading Military Intelligence and later Sunday Times reporters, each breach of secrecy led to further measures to prevent the truth from coming out.

The author of several monumental Afrikaner histories, Giliomee also dismissed what he called the “strange preoccupation” of South Africa’s World War 2 military intelligence with the Broederbond for thinking it could be a danger to the anti-Nazi war effort.

But prominent Broeders had close ties to Nazi Germany and fervently prayed for a German victory, in the war in which 334,000 South Africans fought against Hitler and at least 11,000 were killed. On one day alone, 21 June 1942, 10,722 South African soldiers were captured and made POWs.

Dr Piet Meyer, a member of the Broederbond secretariat from 1935 to 1942, studied at the Nazi Anti-Comintern school in Berlin, befriended Hitler’s chief of staff, Rudolf Hess, who taught him to ski, set up brotherly ties between Afrikaner and Nazi youth associations, and was a general in the paramilitary pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag. He would go on to chair the Broederbond from 1960 to 1972, while also chairman of the SABC.

Another Nazi sympathiser and later senior Broeder, the clergyman Dr JD (Koot) Vorster, was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for violating the Official Secrets Act by preparing details of Allied naval secrets with other pro-German conspirators. 

Vorster told the author of a biography of his brother John, later prime minister and president, that both brothers were in full political agreement. During the war, the Vorster brothers were members of the Ossewabrandwag. 

“We in the OB wanted to create an organisation that would be able to take over the country at the right time and then enter into negotiations with the Germans” to obtain a republic, Koot Vorster said.

In 1944, a Military Intelligence report concluded: “There are prominent positions throughout the Civil Service which are held by Broederbonders, and the fact that some of these are vitally connected with the war effort is a cause for the gravest concern…” This may all be lost in the sands of history, but it is clear Military Intelligence’s interest in the Broederbond was hardly inappropriate.

True Afrikaner heroes

It’s hard not to read in Giliomee’s writing an attempt to reclaim Afrikaner heroes from the embers of apartheid, instead of recognising that the true Afrikaner heroes were the anti-apartheid dissidents who risked everything to expose the Broederbond. 

Bosman rejects Ngwenya’s claim that the Broederbond gave jobs to Broeders, on the grounds that her sources are “work published decades ago by people with grievances”, journalists who “made it their hobby to disclose the unholy scheming and corruption of the organisation. In this process, many sensational reports containing half-truths or distorted information were published worldwide. 

“To rely on a book written in 1979 and to refer to articles in 1970 by two editors who appear to have had personal grievances is, to our mind, not proper research.” 

This criticism of the professionalism of Ngwenya, a respected scholar, would indeed be serious if it were true. But it’s not.

The journalists who broke the Broederbond stories, Charles Bloomberg and Hennie Serfontein, were close friends of mine who separately arrived at the principled conclusion that the Broederbond was dangerous, and made enormous sacrifices to expose it. 

They had no personal grievances against the Broederbond, but once they wrote about it they were victimised and feared for their lives. Their prime advisers were the brilliant Afrikaner theologians Professor Albert Geyser and Dr Beyers Naudé, whose principled anti-apartheid record is well known.

All four of these men suffered for their hand in exposing the Broederbond to sunlight. Geyser lost his university and church positions and was convicted in an ecclesiastical court of heresy. His father, Petrus, was expelled from the Broederbond, his wife, Cecilia’s car suddenly swerved and overturned because a tie rod had been removed. Cecilia never recovered, spending the rest of her life in and out of institutions. Nuts on the steering mechanism of Geyser’s own car were loosened. Nobody was charged for these crimes.   

Naudé was banned and harassed for the rest of the apartheid years. Bloomberg fled the country in fear of his life, living an itinerant life dotted with brilliant accomplishments as well as insecurity and poverty. Serfontein had a difficult life in South Africa, finding freelance employment keeping the Dutch informed about the long fight in South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Churches to prove that apartheid was indeed not Christian. Among his innumerable slights, denying baptism to his daughter stung his family the most.

Now Bosman blames the victims!

‘The Super-Afrikaners’

There were two other key figures unravelling the Broederbond’s workings, Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom, the authors of The Super-Afrikaners, Inside the Afrikaner Broederbond. Their book is a result of a massive document dump that fell into Wilkins’ hands unsolicited, because the Sunday Times, for whom he worked, had the reputation of exposing the secret society from the time of Serfontein and Bloomberg. 

Wilkins didn’t have a grievance — he simply had the good fortune to pick up the phone when a Broeder member called to spill the beans. Wilkins roped in Strydom to help because of his long experience of Afrikaner politics. As their publisher, Jonathan Ball, explained, their newspaper editor was leaned on to stop publishing their exposés, fuelling the reporters’ desire to put the story down in a book.

Serfontein, Bloomberg, Geyser, Naudé, Wilkins and Strydom did not expose the Broederbond’s workings because they were aggrieved, but because the evidence of its distorting influence on government and society was overwhelming, and because conscience-stricken members saw its danger. 

But unlike the ANC’s deployment committee’s minutes, no Broederbond minutes will show an appointment being determined. Bosman throws sand in our faces, arguing that the AB “could in no way give instructions to its members. The Executive Council of AB did not have that kind of power…

“It can be unequivocally stated that the AB had no policy or any mechanisms or procedures whatsoever for identifying members and recommending them for appointment in the public service. The AB never followed a policy of appointing members of the AB to senior or influential positions, nor did the AB’s highest structures or head office decide on appointments in the public service. 

“Never were judges or their appointment discussed or even hinted at during meetings. The government’s Public Service Commission was responsible for appointing officials in the public service. This commission would simply not have tolerated being prescribed to about whom to appoint and whom not.”

Rewriting of history

A more audacious rewriting of history would be hard to find.

The Broederbond decentralised power, both to branches or cells and to professional bodies. The Executive Council interacted with the government at the very highest level — directly with the prime minister and Cabinet. Broederbond meetings were sometimes held in the tax-funded official residence of the prime minister.  

Lower-level appointments were pressed through other channels. 

The methods used were extensive, from circulars listing vacancies along with instructions to make contact with officials through their private addresses and to mark correspondence “personal,” to meetings of local branches and extensive use of professional organisations where appointment decisions were made.

“On account of its cross-sectional membership, the Broederbond has operatives in organisations ranging from farmer co-operatives, village management boards, and the Afrikaner equivalent of the boy scouts, to the parliamentary Cabinet,” Bloomberg wrote. “In politics, the Broederbond works through the NP [National Party]; in cultural affairs, the FAK [Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge]; in religious matters, the DRC [Dutch Reformed Church]; and in the economic field, through the FAK’s Economic Institute. It is heavily entrenched in the top echelons of all these bodies.”

Key to its influence on appointments — and policy — were caucuses, where Broeders met privately before official meetings to map their strategy, then appeared to act independently when the time came.

The caucuses — by their nature unminuted — discussed appointments and policy positions. Afrikaner critics understood the stratagem best. Professor A van Selms of the University of Pretoria complained: “There is no point in arguing or discussing matters with them in the meeting. They cannot talk and act in accordance with their own insight and conscience. They are bound before they come to the meeting.” 

Before the leaks ended the practice, AB circulars to branches listed appointments, including private unlisted contact details and instructions such as “mark the letter personal, and send it to his private residence, not his office”. 

From the 1940s until leaks showed its circulars ran the risk of press exposure, a “Help Mekaar” column listed jobs with Broeder contacts for follow-up.

Bantu Administration Boards

This circular on 12 January 1973, explains Broederbond thinking about its role in appointments to the Bantu Administration Boards, a key institution in the implementation of apartheid: 

“Because the composition of these boards is of such great importance in promoting the policy of separate development, friends [members] who are involved in these organisations (town councils, chambers of commerce and industry, agricultural organisations) must use their influence to ensure that well-disposed persons are nominated for the boards.” 

Its interest in the judiciary was not exempt. An October 1969 newsletter warned Broeders to be on their guard against public servants and magistrates “whose attitude is not right” and might have made “wrong recommendations”, resulting in the appointment of “hostile persons”.

“It is expected of civil servants such as magistrates to make recommendations for certain appointments. Where the attitude of the officials is not right, wrong recommendations are often made and hostile persons are appointed.”

General HJ van den Bergh, while head of the Security Police, handed in a list of policemen to be accepted as Broederbond members. For “further police training” for Broeders at the SA Police College a confidential contact was provided.

The books by the four journalists offer detailed sourcing from circulars covering field after field. The organisation set out to “exert a positive influence in the coming elections” to the SA Nursing Council, with the name of the Broeder to contact. 

Medical congresses, the Agricultural Union, the Public Servants Association and the National Woolgrowers’ Association were all in its sights. 

An urgent 1972 Cape municipal election message said “determined planned action is urgently necessary to ensure control… It is equally important that central control over the Cape Municipal Association and the United Municipal Council will be in the right hands.”

Rugby clubs

It seemed the rugby clubs were just as important: “… all divisions are requested to use their influence to ensure that the management of local rugby clubs is entrusted to reliable and competent persons, and that… rugby union and SA council reps… can be judiciously selected.”

Interested members were enjoined to “consult” a local contact at a postal address and mark the letter “personal” for vacancies in the Springs municipality, followed by a similar note for Vryheid.

“Broeders who are involved with granting state and other bursary loans” were asked to lend a hand.

By 1977, 24 university and teacher college rectors, 468 school headmasters, 16 judges, 67 magistrates, 154 bank managers, 59 secretaries (today’s directors-general or deputy directors-general) and 22 newspaper or magazine editors were Broeders.

The decision to reverse policy and allow TV into South Africa in 1976 is an example where the Broederbond took the lead. It had been policy to block TV for fear of its American influence, especially in undermining apartheid.

First, the Broederbond conducted an investigation into its desirability. The Broederbond investigation was chaired by Dr Piet Meyer, head of the Broederbond. Its conclusion was that it was time to reverse policy and introduce TV. Once that was settled, the government launched an official, tax-funded commission on the same subject. It was chaired by the chairperson of the SABC, who happened to be Dr Piet Meyer, chairman of the Broederbond. 

It will surprise no one that the government commission under SABC chairperson Meyer reached the same conclusion as the Broederbond commission under Broederbond chairperson Meyer. DM



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  • How unusual to read of two respected people defending the indefensible. no doubt their attempt to credit he Broederbond is for reasons only known to themselves. of course the Broederbond infiltrated every aspect of politics, business and even what one could or could not do on a Sunday. of course a few members had links to Nazi (Vorster was interned during the war because of these sympathies) One says never go back into the past unless one is going to do something for the future! the ANC have followed totally the way of the past and stuffed up the future!

  • Thank you for telling the facts, Johm Matisonn. Like Putin, Ngwenya’s (note: the black African head of policy of the so-called “whites’ party”) critics are trying to rewrite history.

  • An excellent analysis of this clandestine organisation. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Transparency is the best disinfectant.

  • It was perfectly obvious in the 1950s that trusted Broeders were being appointed (in a crude but understandable tit-for-tat reaction to the post-Union English dominance) in key management positions all over the civil service, the armed forces and the new apartheid universities, without much concern for relevant skills – cadre deployment is hardly new. Even then, though, they would occasionally draw in useful English-speaking frontmen such as Frank Waring and Owen Horwood.

  • We had a teacher at our school who was a broederbond member, we found out by reading the” super afrikaners”We used to phone him at midnight,1979(no cell phones then)put a handkerchief over the mouthpiece and say”Meeting of the broederbond at the town hall”.End the phone call with him swearing and us laughing. You were still worried that the Veiligheids polisie would come knocking.I became a policeman in 1991 and enjoyed a great career in the police serving the community,before the next bunch of politicians again missed the bus and failed to built ONE NATION,so much that I left the force 2 years early and invested my money privately.Politicians always stuff up this wonderful country, because they never put the citizens 1st , but themselves !!!Story of all south africans et al,unless you are politically connected

  • This is a good article but for all South Africans the main point is that all politicians in all countries always follow these ‘rules of engagement’ to varying degrees. We should be comparing the two political organizations performance. The National Party, read Broederbond, was ‘active’ from around 1914 till 1997 and the ANC from around 1912 till today. The National Party was in power for around 50years and the ANC so far for around 28years. Take the emotion and race out of the equation and look at the Economic and Social Welfare results for the people of the country as a whole, from whatever advantaged or disadvantaged perspective, and you will see that although both parties had the same methods and goals in mind….. the Broederbond was exceptionally successful in empowering their chosen people, dragging along the entire country with it ….. the ANC has so far Empowered a small number of untouchable elites and dragged its chosen people, and the country down, spectacularly. The ‘now what’ is the extreme concern.

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