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Constand Viljoen: on the Afrikaner Right

The divergent political paths of twin Afrikaner brothers reveal the forces pulling at South Africa as the end of white rule approaches

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GEN. Constand Viljoen, the retired defense chief who left his cattle ranch six months ago to mobilize Dutch-descended Afrikaners fearful of majority rule, is seen by his growing band of followers as more than a political leader.

General Viljoen (pronounced `VIL-yoon') stepped into a dangerous political vacuum in May following the sudden death in April of Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht. Mr. Treurnicht's death had left an already fragmented Afrikaner people in deeper confusion.

The assassination two weeks earlier of populist black leader Chris Hani unleashed a wave of black anger that prompted a spontaneous mobilization of right-wing power - in disarray since March 1992, when reformists defeated the right in a whites-only national referendum.

This past spring, a committee of former South African Defense Force generals formed the Afrikaner Volksfront (Afrikaner People's Front, AVF) and persuaded Viljoen to be its leader.

Since he hesitantly accepted the leadership of AVF, an umbrella organization uniting a plethora of white right-wing groups - Viljoen has emerged as a moral authority in Afrikaner politics.

He has quickly sidelined more radical conservative leaders. According to some recent public opinion polls, the Volksfront now commands more support among Afrikaners than President Frederik de Klerk's ruling National Party.

``The phenomenal growth of the Volksfront under Viljoen has very serious implications for De Klerk,'' says Wim Booyse, a political risk analyst who specializes in right-wing groups. ``It has greatly increased the pressure on him to accommodate the right-wing.''

Viljoen's supporters see him in the mold of the Boer generals of old who committed themselves to fight to the finish against the British in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902, a struggle that ended with the Boers' surrender.

His calloused and soil-engrained hands testify to his love of the earth and add credence to the image he cultivates of a reluctant politician.

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