He was motivated by a desire to establish the rights of farmworkers

Deputy minister of land affairs and agriculture in the Thabo Mbeki government, Dirk du Toit, who has died after a massive stroke at the age of 65, was an Afrikaner in murg en been (literally, ‘in marrow and bone’) who found apartheid morally repugnant.

He was born in Boshof in the Free State on September 19 1943.

His father, an academic, was rumoured to have been a member of the Broederbond, but Du Toit became a member of the Progressive Federal Party.

In the ’80s he joined the ANC when it still operated underground in South Africa, something his family and friends only learnt about much later.

Although he ended up as deputy minister of agriculture, Du Toit had no farming background, something which some white farmers, who reviled him as a government lackey, were quick to throw in his face.

His background was as an academic lawyer who specialised in human rights and land affairs.

He matriculated from Boshof Hoërskool with the best results in the Free State and received a bursary from the Department of Defence to study chemical engineering.

He gave this up in order to read law at the then University of the Orange Free State.

After finishing his LLB (cum laude) he was admitted as an advocate of the Supreme Court. After a short stint there, he read for his doctorate in law at Leiden university in the Netherlands.

He returned to UOFS as a lecturer, becoming head of the department of philosophy of law and, in 1975 — at the age of 31 — a professor of law.

While still teaching law he was also the legal adviser of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union.

His political views and open association with the ANC after its unbanning led to abusive phone calls and death threats. His house was bombed, blowing out the front door and entrance hall, and his car was defaced with paint.

Long before he became an MP for the ANC, in 1995, and deputy minister, in 1999, Du Toit was strongly motivated by a desire to establish the rights of farm workers, who under apartheid were entirely at the mercy of farmers, and to formalise these.

He believed this was a necessary precondition for the development and upliftment of rural areas, very close to his heart. His primary goal as deputy minister was to end the exploitation of farm workers and to stop unfair evictions. He was also heavily committed to the land reform programme and the development of emerging farmers.

White commercial farming unions reviled him. They said he didn’t understand farming and was unsympathetic to their interests.

They blamed him for making farming commercially unviable and endangering the country’s food security.

Du Toit is survived by his wife, Niconette, and three daughters. — Chris Barron