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SOUTH AFRICA : Right-Wing Whites Down but Not Out in Wake of Vote

March 21, 1992|SCOTT KRAFT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KEMPTON PARK, South Africa — Shortly after voting against reform here this week, Marc Dewit paused to enlighten an American reporter on Adolf Hitler ("one of the world's great heroes"), communism ("a Jewish conspiracy") and apartheid ("it's not a sin, it's God's law").

Dewit, a 50-year-old with a blond beard and the swastika-like emblem of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement on his khaki lapels, said that if right-wing whites failed at the ballot box, "they'll have to stop us by force, because we'll fight a black government with everything we've got."

A few feet away, one of Dewit's fellow "no" voters, Drienie du Plooy, watched with concern.

"We're not all like that," the 43-year-old bank clerk whispered later, nodding toward Dewit. "Most of us don't believe in violence. We don't hate blacks. We just don't think they can run a country."

As the world knows, the Dewits and the Du Plooys of South Africa lost the referendum when whites decided, by a 2-1 margin, to give President Frederik W. de Klerk a mandate to negotiate with the black majority.

But now those disagreements on the right, between what one newspaper editor has dubbed "the incorrigible and the merely unreasonable," are beginning to loom large as the whites who voted against reform plot a new strategy to fight De Klerk's program.

"The vote was a tragedy," said a dejected Philip Potgieter, the right-wing mayor of Thabazimbi, a small town in the western Transvaal province. "But make no mistake. We'll never die. And we will never sit down with those people (blacks) around the table."

Indeed, the right wing remains a force that cannot be ignored. More than 875,000 white adults voted against the reform referendum. And the longer those whites refuse to participate in constitutional talks, the greater their capacity to derail any negotiated resolution of the country's racial strife.

But cracks already have appeared in the right-wing monolith.

The Conservative Party, by far the largest right-wing group, is wrestling with a fundamental disagreement over strategy. The party's caucus began meeting in secret the day after the referendum results were announced, and the meetings continue.

At issue is how best to pursue the goal of Afrikaner self-determination and the demand for a separate, autonomous white state.

Moderates in the party want to bring that demand to the bargaining table, where De Klerk, the African National Congress and 19 other political groups already are busy negotiating the country's future. Hard-liners want to continue boycotting the talks, until the government and the ANC agree to meet their demands.

While De Klerk and ANC President Nelson Mandela strongly oppose any attempt to give whites their own territory, they say the right wing is free to put its proposals on the table.

Another serious problem for the Conservatives is their uneasy alliance with more militant right-wing groups, such as the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, or AWB.

The Conservatives joined forces with the AWB to fight the referendum, and many analysts believe that cost them votes from more moderate whites on election day. A government campaign poster depicted a masked AWB soldier with a large handgun and the message: "YOU Can Stop This Man."

De Klerk calls the AWB "a fascist organization, a dangerous organization," and most whites--even some in the Conservative Party--agree with him. Although the AWB has only a few thousand members, it maintains a paramilitary force.

The government has arrested and prosecuted several dozen right-wing whites for isolated bombings and attacks on blacks.

And political analysts worry that the installation of an interim government, with blacks in positions of political power, could trigger a new wave of right-wing violence.

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