John Vorster , original name Balthazar Johannes Vorster; also known as B.J. Vorster (born Dec. 13, 1915, Jamestown, Union of South Africa—died Sept. 10, 1983, Cape Town), far right Nationalist politician who served as prime minister (1966–78) and president (1978–79) of South Africa. He was forced to resign from the presidency because of a political scandal.
Vorster was the 13th child of a wealthy Afrikaner sheep farmer. He studied at the University of Stellenbosch, where he gained attention as a Nationalist student leader. In 1938 Vorster left the university to act as registrar to the judge-president at the Cape, and the next year he practiced law at Port Elizabeth. During World War II, Vorster helped to found the anti-British Ossewa Brandwag (Ox-Wagon Guard) and became a “general” in its extremist wing. Vorster expressed his contempt for the democracies and respect for Germany and was arrested for undermining the war effort in 1942. He was released after 14 months and allowed to resume his legal practice.
Vorster tried to enter politics after the war but was at first rejected by the National Party. He was narrowly defeated in the 1948 parliamentary election. By 1953, however, he was accepted by the party and was a successful candidate from the Nigel constituency in the Transvaal. As a leading member of the National Party’s right wing, Vorster helped to bring to power Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, who became prime minister in 1958. Vorster, in turn, was appointed deputy minister of education, arts and science, and social welfare in October. He soon gained a reputation for rigid enforcement of apartheid policies. When Verwoerd decided that a firmer hand was needed after the Sharpeville massacre (1960), Vorster was made minister of justice, police, and prisons in 1961. With expanded legal authority, Vorster vigorously suppressed and harassed opponents of his government’s racial policies.
One week after Verwoerd was assassinated (September 1966), a National Party caucus chose Vorster as his successor. He had rivals