Lions mourn Louis Luyt
The South African rugby community was left shocked at the news of the passing of one of the country's most iconic rugby figures, Louis Luyt.
The sometimes controversial former player, rugby administrator, newspaper proprietor, businessman and politician passed away at home in Ballito, north of Durban, after a long period of illness.Luyt was born in 1932 in the Karoo and went on to represent, and captain, the Orange Free State from the 1950s.
From humble beginnings as a farm-to-farm fertiliser salesman, Luyt rose to become a multi-millionaire and a national figure, stirring controversy every step of the way.
He worked his way up in the fertiliser business to head his own company Triomf Fertiliser.
He became a "super-Afrikaner" fraternising with the political bigwigs of the day, among them Bureau of State Security head General Hendrik van der Bergh and Prime Minister John Vorster.
He fronted an assault on the English newspaper group SA Associated Newspapers to get control of the apartheid government's bugbear, the Rand Daily Mail, and when this failed, launched The Citizen in the mid-70s.
He later swore he had no prior knowledge of the secret government funding of the newspaper.
"When I eventually found out, it was too late. I was in too deep," he was quoted as saying in 1992.
Luyt also invested heavily in a brewing venture, but when both his Louis Luyt Breweries and Triomf went to the wall, he turned to rugby full-time in what one journalist called his "quest for power".
He accepted the Transvaal Rugby Football Union presidency in 1989, and was soon afterwards elected president of the SA Rugby Football Union (Sarfu).
During this period, he came under attack for his administration style and efforts to make the sport professional.
He was accused of nepotism, using bullying tactics, and of autocratic administration.
In 1992, Luyt clashed with the African National Congress when he chose to play only the Afrikaans section of the national anthem at the Springbok Test match against the All Blacks at Ellis Park stadium.
Despite these problems, Luyt played a crucial role in ensuring the national squad's re-entry into the international arena.
His major contribution was in 1995, to facilitate the Springboks' capture of the Rugby World Cup.
Luyt became infamous for his role in the court case involving President Nelson Mandela, when he was a hostile witness in a commission of inquiry into Sarfu affairs.
Gradually, people -- including his former son-in-law Rian Oberholzer, who was the Sarfu MD -- distanced themselves from him.
This resulted in Luyt's sacking as Sarfu president in May 1998.
Luyt then ventured into politics with the Federal Alliance (FA), which he personally financed. His stated purpose in forming the party was to protect the rights and integrity of Afrikaners.
The FA took part in South Africa's first democratic election in 1999, and in 2000 it merged with the Democratic Party, which became the Democratic Alliance. However, Luyt later associated the party with the Freedom Front Plus.
Luyt served as a Member of Parliament for two years. He was also a member of the Judicial Services Commission.
In his book, Walking Proud, Luyt revealed that his birth name was Oswald Louis Petrus Poley, but that he took the surname of his stepfather Charles Luyt when his mother remarried, to become known as Louis Luyt.
“Doc Luyt was a single-minded and determined individual who dominated rugby politics following the death of Doc Craven,” said Oregan Hoskins, the president of SARU.
“On behalf of SARU I would like to send rugby’s condolences to his family and friends.”
GLRU President Kevin de Klerk said he was deeply saddened by the news of Luyt’s passing and conveyed his condolences to Luyt’s family.
“I would like to convey my deepest sympathies to Doc Luyt’s dear wife and children on behalf of myself and the Golden Lions Rugby Union,” he said.
“This Union was always regarded as his home in rugby and we are saddened by the news of his passing.”
De Klerk refers to Luyt as a close friend, who he had the utmost respect for.
“He was always a great mentor, for most of us involved in the game, and we always strove to attain the very high standards that he set. I will sorely miss him.”