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Andries Treurnicht : Defending the All-White Barricades as South Africa Readies for Change

July 28, 1991|Scott Kraft | Scott Kraft is South Africa bureau chief for The Times. He interviewed Andries Treurnicht at the official's office in Parliament

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — A few years back, a Colored historian made the scandalous claim that Andries Treurnicht had enough mixed blood in his family tree to warrant reclassification as a "Colored." Treurnicht commissioned a government think tank to track down six generations of his ancestors. The genealogists found 27 Germans, 20 Dutchmen, 13 Frenchmen, two Belgians, one Swiss and one Swede. The historian's claim, Treurnicht concluded, was "just an attempt by a Colored to run down white people."

Andries Petrus Treurnicht is, indeed, a white man. And proud of it.

He is the leader of about 650,000 white members of the Conservative Party, one of every four white voters. Their determination, through force if necessary, to win the right to govern themselves poses a major threat to President Frederik W. de Klerk, whose government has lost credibility in recent days with liberal whites for secretly funding an African National Congress rival.

Treurnicht flatly opposes everything De Klerk is doing--removing apartheid laws, talking with the ANC and planning to grant blacks the right to vote in a one-person, one-vote election for a democratic, multiracial South African state. Conservatives fear their white heritage will be trampled under the jackboot of a black government, and are not mollified by De Klerk's assurances that the interests of whites will be protected.

Seeking to stop De Klerk, Treurnicht's supporters have attempted to remove black squatters from farms at gunpoint, bombed an empty school and other facilities and may have contributed, under the guise of the country's security forces, to the black factional fighting that has stalled negotiations.

De Klerk's National Party, supported by the white business Establishment, still has enough votes in Parliament to overcome its Conservative opponents. But the president cannot afford to ignore whites' concerns, shared by many in the president's own party.

Treurnicht was first elected to Parliament in 1972, as a member of the ruling National Party, and became party leader in the Transvaal Province. But he clashed with the reform-minded president, Pieter W. Botha, and was booted out of the party, in 1982, for trying to organize a palace revolt.

In conversation, the right-wing leader is a courteous man who looks a decade younger than his 70 years. The descendant of Germans who arrived in South Africa 230 years ago, he has worked as a Dutch Reformed Church minister and as editor of two newspapers. He lives in Pretoria with his wife of 42 years, Engela. They have four grown daughters.

Question: The government is in trouble now for having given some financial support to Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha movement. You have opposed it, even though you, like the government, share Inkatha's concern about a potential ANC government. Why is that?

Answer: It is unethical for the government to support a political party or an organization while other organizations who could claim such support are not ever told. If it is, as the government says, for a party that opposes sanctions, then other organizations, including the Conservative Party, would qualify.

Q: You have called on the government to call a new election as a result of this scandal. Will it respond to you?

A: This government has a reputation for not responding to our calls. It seems to me they'll simply continue. But in the meantime a negative climate is developing in the country, which helps the Conservative Party.

Q: Why?

A: Because it shows the government cannot be trusted with taxpayers' money.

Q: Your Conservative Party strongly opposes the president's reform program. What course do you think he should take?

A: Well, he should act according to what we regard as a world-wide accepted principle--and that is self-determination for people. We have many peoples (ethnic groups) in this country and it is an oversimplification to see it in terms of one undivided country and one nation. We think it doesn't make sense to make one nation out of many nations.

Q: When people think of the right wing here, they think of militant extremists. What is your relationship with them?

A: Well, there are no official links . . . . We demand the same thing--recognition of our people and our land. But it's a matter of style, method or idiom . . . .

Q: So the Conservative Party represents a wide breadth of style?

A: I think so, yes. Our supporters may number close to 1 million at this stage. We will need a general election to determine that, but my perception now is of increasing support for us, as a result of Mr. (Frederik W.) de Klerk's policies and as a result of the effects of the ANC (African National Congress) negotiating with him.

Q: But many Afrikaners seem pleased that De Klerk's reforms are being rewarded internationally. Doesn't that make it more difficult to recruit new members?

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