The University of South Africa ‘s Department of Political Studies and the Archives recently held a special event in the Library to celebrate the life of Prof Willem Kleynhans, the founder and first Head of the Department. He was born in Koppies in the Free State and obtained all his academic qualifications (BCom, BA, MA & PhD) through extramural study at the University of Pretoria. His doctoral thesis Volksregering in die ZAR: Die rol van memories (Government by the people in the South African Republic: The role of petitions) was published in 1966.
Prof Kleynhans started his career as an official in the Accounting Section of Unisa in 1947. Three years later he was appointed lecturer and Head of the Department of Political Science. He worked alone for seven years and offered courses in Political Science, Public Administration & Municipal Government and Administration. When he retired at the end of 1986, the Department had more than thirty lecturers.
On 17 May 1955 WA Kleynhans and twelve other academics sent a Protesskrif to the government, protesting against the Senate Act of 1955 which enlarged the Senate to obtain a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament whereby the Separate Representation of Voters Act was declared valid. This was the start of his break with the Nationalist Government and apartheid. Fifty years later in 2005, Mr LK Joubert of the IFP proposed a special tribute to Prof Willem Kleynhans in Parliament. He honoured the political scientist for protesting against the racial policies of the then National Party in 1955 and noted that at that stage, Kleynhans was the first Afrikaans academic to openly critise the apartheid regime from within and was thereafter rejected and scorned. Mr LK Joubert concluded his motion with “We salute you, Professor Kleynhans, and also the many other Afrikaners who never supported the National Party’s racial policies”.
During 1966 Prof Kleynhans visited the USA on a nine-month grant from the Ernest Oppenheimer Bursary Fund. He was appointed professor in 1971 and from 1975 until his retirement in 1986 he was Head of the Department of Political Science.
In 1987 Unisa Press published Prof Kleynhans’ South African General Election Manifestos 1910-1981. As a retired academic, he continued with his research on South African politics. During this period he was much in demand by the media as a political commentator. He donated most of his vast private collection of political materials – spanning a century of political history of all South Africans - comprising pamphlets, posters, correspondence, photographs and press cuttings to the Unisa Library Archives in 2008.
Prof WA Kleynhans died in Pretoria on 25 September 2012 at the age of 91 years.
The Unisa Library is currently in the process of digitising 650 posters from the Kleynhans Poster Collection.
Article written by Marié Coetzee, Manager: Unisa Archives