S. Africa Rightists Turn to Violence
Deaths of white extremists after clash with police could rally isolated right-wing movement
THE creation of the first right-wing martyrs during a shoot-out with heavily armed police in the Western Transvaal town of Ventersdorp last weekend could provide the divided forces of white extremism with a new focus for mobilization."The level of anger among right-wingers is growing every day because - after four decades of brainwashing by the National Party - they are not prepared for the changes that are now being made," says Willem Kleynhans, a veteran political scientist. Right-wing leaders say the conflict Saturday, in which three right-wing activists were killed after attacking black passengers in a taxi, marked the start of a violent struggle for the freedom of descendents of Dutch Boers. "This gives us no other choice than to get ready for a war which was started by [President Frederik] de Klerk against his own people," says Piet Rudolph, secretary-general of the paramilitary Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), which led the assault on well-armed police in Ventersdorp. "Henceforth, De Klerk will be known among his own people as the 'Butcher of Ventersdorp, Mr. Rudolph said. The right-wing action - which was an attempt to prevent Mr. de Klerk from addressing a National Party meeting - was condemned throughout South African society. Political analysts say the confrontation could unify right-wing activists but would not increase their numbers. "The right-wingers will use the incident as an emotional rallying point against De Klerk," says Wim Booyse, a political scientist with expertise on the white right wing. Mr. Booyse, who lists more than 100 right-wing groups nationwide, says headcounts are less important than organization and mobilization. "You only need between 500 and 1,000 really committed people to pose a serious threat to stability and human life," he says. "They are a security threat rather than a political threat." In the last election the right-wing Conservative Party drew almost 700,000 voters, representing about 30 percent of white voters (about 15 percent of the white population) but only 2 percent of South Africa's population of 35 million. Estimates of AWB support, fluctuate according to the political climate, but is estimated at no more than 0.1 percent of the population, or about 35,000 people. Still, Booyse predicts that no more than 5,000 to 10,000 whites (0.02 percent of the population) support the kind of violence used by the AWB Friday. "I think the white right wing has already peaked in terms of numbers," says Booyse. "But the potential rallying point of funerals of white martyrs could pose a serious threat to the unity of De Klerk's security establishment." Andries Treurnicht, leader of the right-wing Conservative Party, accused De Klerk of deliberate provocation and ignoring all the warning signs. Violent retaliation, he said, was justified in such situations. The shooting of white policemen by right-wing gunmen has been widely seen as an act of desperation by an increasingly isolated political constituency. Police say the AWB fired the first shots. At least seven policemen were injured, three seriously. De Klerk says he regrets the loss of life, but not the fact that he had visited Ventersdorp. "I hope these events will bring the country to its senses," says De Klerk. "It is a tragic moment for democracy in South Africa." ANC President Nelson Mandela called for destruction of the AWB. "Any organization that preaches fascist ideas ought not to be allowed to flourish in a democratic society," he said. "I am not suggesting that the government should drive the AWB underground. I am saying they should destroy it." The scope and speed of De Klerk's political reforms during the past 18 months have outmaneuvered the divided right wing. In May, several right-wingers were wounded by police gunfire when they tried forcibly to evict black squatters from farmland about 10 miles outside of Ventersdorp, the home of fiery AWB leader Eugene Terreblanche. Right-wing activists in July blew up an empty white school in Pretoria, which had been earmarked for hundreds of ANC exiles returning from an ANC school in Tanzania. The right wing has also attracted publicity with hunger strikes by activists being held in connection with bombings and other attacks. The weekend showdown took place outside a hall in the ultra-conservative town of Ventersdorp where De Klerk was due to address a National Party meeting. Some 2,000 heavily armed police faced about the same number of armed right-wingers who tried to break through a police cordon surrounding the Commando Hall, where some 1,500 National Party supporters were gathered to hear their leader. In the melee that followed, three whites were killed, 50 other people were injured. Legislator for the liberal Democratic Party, Jacobus Jordaan, says the most effective way of defusing the right wing is to install an interim government that shows real cooperation between the government and ANC. "This would show extremists on both the right and the left that there can be real progress when the major adversaries begin to co-operate," he says.