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Afrikaner Rage Fuels an Upsurge in Racial Violence : South Africa: Whites, fearing blacks will treat them as they have treated blacks, are forming vigilante groups--and blacks are responding in kind.

April 22, 1990|Charlene Smith | Charlene Smith is a South African journalist

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — Racial violence and anti-Semitism are on the rise in South Africa as the country's ultra-rightists brazenly call for armed resistance to black political ambitions. Their hatred for Jews has long been a staple of their fascism.

In the mining town of Welkom, a group of black miners was recently attacked by whites armed with pick handles, guns and batons while white women and children yelled them encouragement.

A Jewish city councilor in the town of Boksburg, near Johannesburg, found a pig's head wrapped in the Star of David on his chair in council chambers. Anti-Semitic tracts have also gained readership.

The rage that burns inside Afrikaners stems less from a fear of losing their cultural identity than from anger that they, the self-proclaimed chosen race, may have to share power with "baboons," as they call blacks. The jobs and homes that white privilege used to guarantee them may also become less available.

South Africa's sliding economy has already brought about much of what the Afrikaners fear. More and more blacks live illegally in white areas as a result of the long-uncorrected shortage of black housing. With jobs no longer reserved for whites, work competition has increased.

But the main reason behind white anxieties is that Afrikaners fear blacks will treat them as they have treated blacks.

For years, Afrikaners vowed they would fight to the death rather than allow blacks to rule South Africa. Although other white colonialists have made similarly solemn pledges before ultimately conceding majority rule, the Afrikaner vow has an edge of desperate defiance. Whites in colonial territories could always retreat to their motherland, or move down to South Africa. For Afrikaners, motherland is where they are.

The resulting fanaticism is turning South Africa into a collection of armed camps of vigilantes, black and white. Labor relations between blacks and whites have deteriorated. Whites arrive at work with guns strapped to their hips. Blacks walk off the job the moment they are racially insulted. Before Easter, the Ga-Rankuwa Hospital for blacks, near Pretoria, closed after its staff refused to work until two white racist administrators were fired.

Not long after the Welkom incident, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, the Farmer's State Party and the Transvaal Separatists (who want a whites-only homeland) announced that they had activated commando units to counter black political activity in the wake of government reforms. The Welkom BV forms one of these commando units. All are linked to the Conservative Party, the main parliamentary opposition.

Access to weapons does not pose a problem for the extreme right-wing. Not only do the white fanatics have strong support from the military and police, but they also are, by law, allowed to own up to 27 firearms each. Members of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement have been photographed at meetings toting M-16s and AR-15s. Blacks are barred from owning firearms.

The movement's symbol--an inverted triple seven--resembles the swastika. No wonder. Members are proud, anti-Semitic neo-Nazis. They have long received training in baton and knife fighting, unarmed combat, handgun combat, anti-ambush and defensive-driving techniques. Late last year, three members attacked United Nation offices in Namibia with rockets and mortars, killing a black security guard. Not long after their arrests, the trio escaped, fatally wounding a young policeman as they fled. Within days of Namibia gaining its independence, two of them were openly living in South Africa, since the two countries have no extradition treaty.

The Afrikaner Resistance Movement's charmed existence poses dangers for the government of Frederik W. de Klerk. An organization called the Order of Death, with reported links to the movement, was found in possession of a death list containing the names of left-wing activists and those of De Klerk and his foreign minister, Roelof F. (Pik) Botha.

But the government appears worried that any action taken against the extreme right-wing groups, while the state is talking with the African National Congress and releasing political prisoners, could fuel white anger. For example, Andries Treurnicht, leader of the Conservative Party, told the party's national conference earlier this month: "We demand the right to use what is necessary, including violence, to protect our people and our property." Although South African law prohibits people from inciting such racial hatred or calling people to arms, no government official has moved to enforce the law against the extremist groups.

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