'Absolute folly' then death

March 12, 1994|By Bill Keller | Bill Keller,New York Times News Service

MMABATHO, South Africa -- The three white men had strapped on their pistols and raced 300 miles across South Africa to defend the apartheid homeland of Bophuthatswana in what they were told was the first great battle against a Communist insurrection.

Now they lay in the dirt alongside their bullet-riddled blue Mercedes, one dead and two wounded, casualties of a gun battle with the black homeland soldiers they had ostensibly come to save.

One reporter at the scene asked the two survivors if they thought it had been a mistake to come.

"No, no," groaned Alwyn Walfaardt, bleeding through the khaki uniform favored by the right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement.

Suddenly a black man wearing the green fatigues of the Bophuthatswana police stepped up and methodically executed Mr. Walfaardt and the other wounded vigilante, Fanie Uys, with four shots from an automatic rifle.

President F. W. de Klerk said later yesterday, "What has happened there proves the folly of any effort to have private armies, and the absolute folly of such private armies poking their nose in things which should be and are in actual fact state business."

He announced the deployment of South African troops to the area.

The killings were the defining moment of a day in which South Africa's white die-hards mounted their first armed challenge to the new South Africa, only to discover that their image of South Africa bore almost no relation to reality.

The whites, 5,000 of them by some estimates, arrived with the understanding that they had been invited by the black homeland leader, Lucas Mangope, to help his army and police suppress a revolution by the African National Congress and the Communist Party.

What the whites apparently did not know was that Mr. Mangope was already negotiating the terms of his surrender, because his black soldiers and police officers had largely gone over to the protesters.

The white irregulars were summoned from farming areas by Gen. Constandt Viljoen, leader of a white separatist alliance called the Afrikaner Volksfront, who announced on a right-wing radio station that the help was requested by the homeland's beleaguered president.

"Farmers and Bophuthatswanans get along very well," General Viljoen told a radio interviewer early today.

The general said he had requested that the militants of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement not join the procession to Bophuthatswana because their virulently racist views might offend residents.

Mr. Walfaardt and Mr. Uys, both stalwarts of the movement, said they had removed their modified-swastika arm patches in keeping with the general's command.

At first the whites had the run of the homeland capital, Mmabatho. But when the opportunity arose, Bophuthatswana security forces turned on their would-be rescuers with an explosion of vengeance.

The opportunity arose early yesterday afternoon at the outskirts of Mafikeng, Mmabatho's twin city and a town revered by Afrikaners as the scene of a courageous siege during the Boer War.

A convoy of about 20 cars and pickup trucks loaded with armed whites was circling through town. As they passed a concentration of Bophuthatswana troop carriers, witnesses said, one of the whites fired into a crowd, killing a black woman.

The Bophuthatswana soldiers responded with a fusillade of bullets. Some of the whites returned fire before the soldiers chased their convoy toward the homeland border.

Only the blue Mercedes was left behind, with the three men from the northern prairie town of Naboomspruit pleading without avail for an ambulance as police officers, photographers and television crews circled the bloody scene.

After the avenger stepped forward and calmly finished off the wounded men, the police officers ordered reporters to leave the scene.

It was an hour and a half longer before the officers tossed the three bodies into a van and delivered them to a cold storage room at a mental hospital, inviting photographers along to record the final humiliation.

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