S African author Laurens van der Post dies in London

 

SIR Laurens van der Post, the South African-born writer and mentor of Prince Charles, has died peacefully at his London home. He was 90.

His daughter, Ms Lucia Crichton-Miller, said yesterday her father died on Sunday night, two days after he had been due to celebrate his 90th birthday at a party organised by his close friend, Prince Charles. The party was cancelled at the last moment because Sir Laurens had fallen ill.

He married twice - his second wife, Ingaret, is well over 90 - and leaves one daughter.

Sir Laurens earned a world-wide reputation as an explorer and writer about Africa in the 1950s. The Lost World of the Kalahari, a book about the lost way of life of the desert bushmen, became a bestseller in 1958.

In recent years he was known as Prince Charles's spiritual guru and helped to develop his interest in alternative lifestyles and non-Christian religions.

He was godfather to Prince William, the eldest son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He was reported to have more influence over the prince than any other person. He was also close to the former prime minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, who knighted him in 1981.

A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said: "His Royal Highness is very saddened by the death of Laurens van der Post, who has been a dear friend for a very long time."

Born on his parents' farm in Philippolis in South Africa, Sir Laurens was the 13th of 15 children. His father was a politician who died when he was seven.

He was the only one of the children not to go to university, choosing instead to start work as a journalist. He became the first Afrikaner journalist on the Natal Advertiser in Durban.

He said his first book, In A Province, was the first written by a South African against racial prejudice. It was published in 1934 by British author Virginia Woolf.

He joined the British army in 1939 and was captured by the Japanese in Java in 1943. He was tortured and narrowly avoided death.

Sir Laurens said he saved his gown life by asking his attackers in Japanese: "Would you gentlemen please be so kind as to condescend to wait an honourable moment?"

After his release, he returned to Africa to write his most famous books, but his first marriage could not survive the residue of war. "I stank of war for so long that, like many men, I found it difficult to, return to normal domestic life."

He wrote 26 books - including The Heart of the Hunter and The Seed and the Sower - and finished a volume of autobiography earlier this year, which told of the 22 months he spent in Java after his release from 3 1/2 years' captivity.

His discovery of Jung's theory of the collective subconscious, the communality that binds humans across cultural barriers, changed his life.

Sir Laurens fired Prince Charles's interest in multiculturalism and gave him a philosophical framework for his ideas, ranging from organic farming to the need for modern Britain to embrace religions other than Christianity.

An imposing man with strong opinions, Sir Laurens was increasingly pessimistic about mankind's future.

"At the moment we're heading straight for destruction. There is the life of the spirit and we have not engaged with it. Our obsession with material things is quite dreadful," he said in a recent interview.

"We have greater power than at any time in our history to control nature, and it has corrupted us. Present society is at the end of its cycle."