The fall of Eugene Terre'Blanche

Patrick Laurence writes on the failed career of the late AWB leader

JOHANNESBURG - The murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche, the leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) probably marks the demise of the neo-fascist organisation that he founded in 1973 after unsuccessfully standing as a parliamentary candidate for the Herstige Nasionale Party.

Though Terre'Blanche, a powerful speaker who reportedly modelled his oratorical technique on that of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, attracted large crowds to AWB rallies in the 1980s, he and the movement he led suffered a series of severe crippling blows from 1994 onwards.

The first of these setbacks was the disastrous defeat the AWB suffered when it intervened in the affairs of the putatively independent polity of Bophuthatswana to crush an African National Congress inspired rebellion against its president, Lucas Mangope.

But the mission - undertaken against the wishes of Mangope who was relying on help from the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), which was led by General Constand Viljoen - ended disastrously for the AWB. The ill-disciplined AWB militia force starting firing at civilians. That provoked the intervention of Bophuthatswana Defence Force.

The AWB were no match for the Bophuthatswana soldiers who were armed with automatic rifles. They had to withdraw ignominiously but not before three AWB militiamen were killed in cold blood while trying to surrender by raising their arms.

Apart from having to retreat hastily, the AWB had to come to terms with two further disasters: the ousting of Mangope, its putative ally, and the decision of Viljoen to participate in the pending settlement election that would mark the birth of the new non-racial constitutional democracy that the AWB had vowed to prevent.

Without Viljoen, a former commander of the South African Defence Force who had the loyalty of many former soldiers as well as the potential support of some serving soldiers, the chances of a successful armed rebellion were non-existent.

The second major miscalculation by the AWB came on the eve of, and during, the election of April 1994 when AWB saboteurs denoted bombs in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Germiston in a bid to prevent the founding election of South Africa's democracy from taking place.

Though the bombs that were planted at bus terminuses used by black citizens resulted in a score or more deaths, they failed to prevent the election from taking place. They may even have been counter-productive by angering rather than frightening the intended victims and thereby increasing their determination to vote.

Worse still from the AWB's perspective, the bombers were arrested within a day or two, indicted, convicted and sent to long prison sentences. The rapidity with which they were apprehended invites the conclusion that police agents had successful infiltrated the AWB and were easily able to identify the main saboteurs.

Associated with that was another discouraging factor for the AWB: the failure of Terre'Blanche to standby his imprisoned comrades. It resulted in bitter criticism of Terre'Blanche for dissociating himself from their actions, though he must have known about them in advance.

The third factor in the declining fortunes of the AWB cane in June of 2001: Terre'Blanche was sentenced to imprisonment for six year after being convicted of seriously assaulting a black petrol attendant and attempting to murder a black security guard. As these were common law criminal offences, they offered little or no political benefit to Terre'Blanche. He was released after serving three years of his six year prison sentence.

He was reported to have undergone a religious epiphany in prison and to have discovered or rediscovered the healing power of spiritual redemption. As one of three white prisoners in the Rooigrond prison, near Mafeking,, he might even have realised the need to come to terms with the reality that South Africa's population is overwhelming black.

Though after his release Terre'Blanche still talked of the need for the establishment of a "free Afrikaner republic," the chances of achieving that through the ballot box are negligible and the prospect of establishing it through force of arms is non-existent.

The figures point to growing numerical dominance of blacks in South Africa, as evidenced by a marked increase of a well over 35 % in the black population since 1992 and a miniscule increase of less than 2 % in the white population during the same period. There is hardly an area in South Africa where blacks are not in the majority.

Since Terre'Blanche's objective was to re-establish the old Boer Republics, his followers would presumably not consider establishing an "Afrikaner republic" in the Western Cape where coloured people are in the majority. Even if they did, they would certainly face strenuous opposition from the coloured people, as well as Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance, who is is the provincial premier.

There is another telling statistical fact to take account of. As Hermann Gilomee, author of The Afrikaners - Biography of a People observed in a recent article, 82 % of Afrikaners today support the Democratic Alliance, a figure which matches the 82 % of Afrikaners who support Hendrik Verwoerd, the "high priest of apartheid," in the early 1960s.

Extrapolation from Gilomee's calculation points strongly to the conclusion that the vast majority of Afrikaners have abandoned the quest for territorially-based partition that would give them their own "homeland" while consenting to the establishment of a separate homeland for black people.

To put it succinctly, Afrikaners have chosen to seek justice for all in a common homeland for all South Africans, irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion.

As for attaining a separate Afrikaner state by force of arms, that is an even more impossible quest to embark on. There might have been a faint chance of achieving a much smaller Afrikaner republic in 1993 but the balance of power, militarily and demographically, has shifted irreversibly in favour of blacks since then.

Nothing short of a modern day equivalent of the national suicide of the Xhosa people in 1856-57 when they slaughtered their cattle and destroyed their crop at the urging of a prophetess will change that.

Terre'Blanche's follow who might still entertain thoughts of establishing a separate homeland by violent means need to remember the slaying of their comrades in Bophuthatswana in 1994 and to contemplate the fate of the Boeremag rebels who were rounded up and captured within a few days of their sabotage campaign in 2002.

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