Author(s): J.D.F. Jones
When he died in 1996, Laurens Van der Post had won renown in an astounding range of roles: as war hero, writer, explorer, mystic, environmentalist, Jungian, behind-the-scenes diplomat, and friend and confidant of the great - famously including both Mrs Thatcher and Prince Charles. He seemed to be one of the most remarkable men the 20th century had produced. His conversation influenced thousands, his ideas millions. But he discouraged biographers in his lifetime on the grounds that in his many books he had told his story himself.
After his death doubts soon began to spread, however, as to whether this story presented a true picture. Was his knowledge of the Kalahari Bushmen, as extensive as he led us to believe, and did the Bushman stories he so loved to tell come mainly from books? His standing as some kind of secular saint certainly suffered with the emergence of an illegitimate daughter whose mother he had seduced when she was 15. And his claim to have effectively brokered the Lancaster House agreement on Zimbabwean independence was deflated by those who had actually been there.
Nor was that all. Sir Laurens's famly authorized this biography, giving J.D.F. Jones exclusive access to the Van der Post papers and allowing him complete freedom. A completely different man from that portrayed by the media is presented. This biography looks behind the facade that Sir Laurens so skilfully created and suggests that he became to some extent a prisoner of it. The love he inspired was genuine, but the account of his life that he presented was in the end just another of his wonderful stories.
J.D.F. Jones is a British writer and journalist with a long connection with South Africa. For the London Financial Times he was successively foreign editor, managing editor, southern Africa editor, founder editor of the Weekend FT, and arts and literary editor. His career therefore spanned the breadth of Laurens van der Post's lifelong interests, from literature to international affairs, from Africa to Aldeburgh. His previous books include two novels, Freeland and The Buchan Papers, and a history, Through Fortress and Rock, which was shortlisted for the Alan Paton Award. He lives in Somerset.