Extremist voices of Afrikaner Resistance Movement ring hollow after election

May 04, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The rally of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, for whites to boycott the elections here last week seems like a last gasp instead of a last hurrah now that the election is over.

There was a ragtag force of about 250 gathered in a field near the town of Rustenburg as the voting got under way. They were surrounded by troops from South Africa's security forces. With no one else to bother, they pushed around some journalists. Even the rich baritone of their leader, Eugene TerreBlanche, rang hollow.

Most important, the majority of South African whites ignored the call for a boycott.

In the aftermath of the election, the potential for a small band of zealots to make serious trouble for a new nation could not be overlooked. Three bombs that exploded in the Johannesburg area as the election got under way last week, killing more than 20 and injuring many more, underlined the potential.

But for the moment, the far right seems checked, disorganized and unlikely to have a significant impact on the country's political landscape.

"I don't think the AWB has what it takes to conduct a revolution," said Wim Booyse, a labor-risk consultant who has studied the right wing. "They don't have the constitution to endure a real struggle. They are too bourgeois."

According to Dr. Booyse's analysis, the key figure in the isolation of the far right is Constand Viljoen, the country's former top general, who decided to take the case for an Afrikaner homeland into the election, running as head of a party called the Freedom Front.

Battle for leadership

"That set off a major battle for the leadership of the right wing," Dr. Booyse said. "If Viljoen can get more than 450,000 votes out of the election, then it will be clear that he has the support of the majority of right-wingers. That would lead to the further marginalization of TerreBlanche."

Judging from the incomplete returns, the Freedom Front should get close to that figure. With 53 percent of the returns in, it had totaled more than 323,000 votes. Moreover, there is some evidence that other right-wingers voted for the National Party, seeking a strong opponent to the African National Congress in the new Parliament.

In Ventersdorp, the town west of Johannesburg where the AWB has its headquarters, long lines of blacks and whites formed at polling places. Many white farmers arrived with the back of their pickups filled with their black workers, whom they had brought in to vote.

It seemed another reflection of the disunity that has troubled the far right since they began protesting the reform moves of the ruling National Party -- which led Afrikaners to power in 1948.

"I do see them having the ability to make life unpleasant," said Zelwyn Zwick, who keeps tabs on the right as vice chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

But he added: "What you find in the far right is a lack of cohesion, a lack of discipline and a willingness to sell each other out over virtually anything."

Immediately after last week's bombings, the South African police arrested 31 people, most of them AWB members. This eased fears that right-wing members of the security forces might aid the AWB.

"There's no evidence people in the security forces are going make some sort of revolution happen," said Tom Lodge, head of the political science department at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand. "The security forces have been trained in counterinsurgency and that for the last 15 years; they have been successful in suppressing left-wing generation guerrilla insurgency. I see no reason they would be less successful in doing the same with the right wing."

Police also said that the arrests came after fellow right-wingers, apparently tempted by a $300,000 reward, turned in their compatriots, further evidence of a lack of discipline and unity on the far right.

'Bop stupidity'

Then there was "that Bop stupidity."

In Brits, a town northwest of Pretoria that went the way of the right wing in the referendum two years ago on Mr. de Klerk's reforms to end apartheid, thousands turned out to vote in spite of the AWB call for a boycott.

"There's a lot of support for the Freedom Front around here," said Jan Zowitsky a poll worker in Brits.

"The AWB lost everything with that Bop stupidity."

He was referring to an aborted attempt in March by the AWB to prop up the homeland government of Lucas Mangope in Bophuthatswana.

Driving in like an ersatz invading army, they shot some blacks walking along the road, then saw two of their members summarily executed by a member of the Bophuthatswana police as they lay wounded next to their shot-out car.

In the end, they fled under the protection of the South African Defense Force. Widespread coverage of the incident damaged the credibility of the AWB's claims to be a potent military force.

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