WILLIE ESTERHUYSE was born in 1936 in Laingsburg, where his father farmed. He studied at the University of Stellenbosch, where after a sabbatical of 2 ½ years in the Netherlands, he obtained a D Phil. His initial qualifications were in theology and philosophy. He sarted his career as an academic in 1965 as a lecturer at University College, Durban, and in 1967 moved to the then Rand Afrikaans University. In 1974 he joined the university's Philosophy Department as a professor until 2002. From 1999 to 2006 he taught Business Ethics part-time at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, and lectured in management at the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business.
He was director of, among others, Murray & Roberts, Metropolitan Holdings, Medi-Clinic, Plexus and Stellenbosch Vineyards and a trustee of the Sanlam Demutualisation Trust. He is currently a trustee of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, involved in the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI), and is non-executive chairman of Barinor Holdings Limited.
Prof Esterhuyse is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the Sunday Times prize for political literature (1981), the Stals Prize for Philosophy, awarded by the South African Academy for Science & Technology (1984) and the NP van Wyk Louw Medal, also from the South African Academy of Science & Technology (1999). He was elected "Visiting Professor of the Year" at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (1997), and "Professor of the Year" at the US Business School’s MBA exchange program with the University of Nijenrode, Netherlands (2001). He received the Institute for Personnel Management's President’s Award (1999) and the Order of Luthuli (silver) in 2003, the same year that the University of Stellenbosch awarded him an honorary doctorate. He has served as board member and later as chair of Artscape, as board member of the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival and of Freedom Park, and as trustee of the Nations Trust.
He regularly gives public lectures, both internationally and in South Africa, and was the official guest of various governments, including the USA, United Kingdom (twice) and China. He has also been guest speaker at international conferences in countries such as Bermuda, the United Kingdom, USA, Switzerland and Germany. He writes columns and opinion pieces for local and international media.
His numerous publications include Apartheid Must Die, Die pad van hervorming, Anton Rupert: Pleitbesorger vir hoop, and The ANC and its Leaders. With Ebbe Dommisse he wrote Anton Rupert: A Biography. He was the compiler for Thabo Mbeki's Africa: The time has come and Africa: Define yourself. His most recent books are God en die gode van Egipte and Die God van Genesis.
In the movie Endgame, which tells the story of secret negotiations in England, his role is played by William Hurt.
Prof Esterhuyse lives in Stellenbosch with his wife, Annemarie. They have six children.