Brand Fourie, who headed the apartheid era's department of foreign affairs for 17 years, has died in hospital in Pretoria after a short illness. He was 91.

He joined the department in 1936, was secretary - the post later known as director-general - from 1966 until 1983 and, by the time he retired in 1985, was ambassador to the US. He chaired the SABC board from 1985 to 1989.

Former foreign minister Pik Botha said Fourie had been a key player in South Africa's important foreign policy events from World War 2.

"He was one of the most remarkable diplomats South Africa ever produced," Botha said.

He had been an aide to Prime Minister Jan Smuts during World War 2 and attended some of his meetings with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He attended the 1945 launch of the United Nations with Smuts and contributed to drafting the UN Charter.

Fourie leaves his wife, Daphne, son Gerhard and daughter Nicolette. His funeral service is to be held at the Valleisig Dutch Reformed Church in Faerie Glen at midday on Monday.