Louis Luyt. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Louis Luyt. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

BUSINESSMAN and former national rugby boss Dr Louis Luyt has died, South African Rugby Union (Saru) spokesman Andy Colquhoun said on Friday.

He said further details would be released later.

From humble beginnings as a farm-to-farm fertiliser salesman, Luyt rose to become a multimillionaire and a national figure, stirring controversy every step of the way.

Born on June 18 1932 in Britstown in the Cape, 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 Gen Hendrik van der Bergh and Prime Minister John Vorster.

He fronted an assault on the English newspaper group South African 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-1970s.

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".

According to SA History Online, he accepted the Transvaal Rugby Football Union presidency in 1989, and was soon afterwards elected president of the South African 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 against the All Blacks at Ellis Park.

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 then 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 an MP for two years. He was also a member of the Judicial Service 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.

He was married to Adri, with whom he had four children.

Sapa