South Africa's extremists vow war before black rule Right-wing whites resist reforms

August 11, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Right-wing extremists threatened yesterday to go to war against the South African government to stop political reforms that would turn their country over to blacks.

Following bloody clashes with police Friday in the town of Ventersdorp, the white extremists said they were willing to die to preserve white land that they believe President F. W. de Klerk is giving away.

"We will not be forced into a unitary state," said Piet Rudolph, a leader of the right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement, which locked in battle with white policemen Friday when they tried to stop Mr. de Klerk from giving a speech in Ventersdorp. "We will be forced into a war."

He said that if Mr. de Klerk succeeded in negotiating a unitary state to replace apartheid, under which blacks and whites were supposed to have separate states within South Africa, the blacks would be the majority and would rule whites.

"We will not be about to survive in a country with a black majority," he said in an interview.

The clash was the first major gun battle between white authorities and white extremists, who have warned for months that they would fight to prevent black majority rule.

Analysts said that it represented a watershed in white politics in South Africa.

"Last night was a decisive indication of where the right wing is heading," said Wim Booyse, an expert on white South African politics. "At this point, it seems their commitment to violence is unquestionable."

The confrontation was also the first in which right-wing whites have died because of their opposition to Mr. de Klerk's political reforms. Two members of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, also known as the AWB, were killed in the standoff between 2,000 heavily armed extremists and hundreds of riot policemen guarding a hall where Mr. de Klerk was speaking.

Dozens of black passers-by were attacked by white mobs during the night, including occupants of a minibus that was shot up by whites when it encountered the mob and veered out of control. Police said that a total of 58 people were injured -- 36 right-wing whites, seven white officers and 15 blacks.

The Friday night clash was the clearest sign to date of the intensity of right-wing anger at Mr. de Klerk's actions in dismantling apartheid laws and negotiating with blacks on a new political system. White extremists' previous attacks -- bombing schools and bus stops -- had not involved face-to-face combat.

"This is the first real indication of their commitment to derailing the negotiations," said Mr. Booyse. He said he did not believe that they would succeed in stopping the talks but that they would probably weaken Mr. de Klerk as he negotiates with the African National Congress.

Mr. Booyse said that he has counted 144 right-wing groups but that most had only two or three members. He said that the militant extremists represent a small portion of the white population -- but that they are armed and dangerous.

He said they knew the weak points in the South African security forces because the extremists were mostly men trained in counterinsurgency work for the South African Defense Forces.

"These are the guys who implemented the police programs of counterinsurgency warfare against the ANC," he said. "They are extremely dangerous.

"They have the capability of destabilizing. They know the [security] system. They know the strategic weak points, because it was their job to protect the weak points."

Professor Willem Kleynhans of the University of South Africa, another political analyst, said that the confrontation represented permanent rift that has developed among Afrikaners, descendants of South Africa's Dutch settlers.

He said that right-wing whites despise Mr. de Klerk because "he has endangered their existence. They feel now for the first time that their existence as a group is threatened because of his scrapping of apartheid."

The trouble began brewing after Mr. de Klerk planned a speech in Ventersdorp, the headquarters of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement.

Mr. Rudolph, the right-wing leader who was arrested last year and detained six months in connection with the theft of military weapons, accused the president of provoking the confrontation.

"There was no reason for Mr. de Klerk to come to Ventersdorp," he said. "But he decided to come, and to my mind it was for a showdown."

Mr. de Klerk, who gave his speech as the gun battle raged outside the town hall and then left in an armored tank, called the incident "a tragic moment for democracy in South Africa."

ANC President Nelson Mandela said the incident resulted from a "culture of political intolerance" among right-wing extremists.

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