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An Apartheid Frankenstein Rises to Voters’ Applause

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“I have a dream,” boomed the deep Afrikaner voice. “I have a dream . . . of our own free, white nation-state.”

Eugene Terre Blanche, the arch-right-wing leader, was speaking in the town of George, 250 miles from here. Bizarrely using Dr. Martin Luther King’s hallowed turn of phrase, he was challenging the government of President P.W. Botha at its roots.

The short, portly leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (Weerstandbeweging) showed that he knows how to use history and emotion to fuel white fears when he ventured into the heart of Botha country recently to hold a meeting. He drew a capacity, enthusiastic all-white audience.

He demonstrated that the right wing in white politics is something to be taken seriously. With local elections set in South Africa for Oct. 26 and the government showing some cautious signs of flexibility on racial policy and peace in Angola and Namibia, Terre Blanche is out to wreak havoc. He depicts the government of Botha as selling out the ruling Afrikaners’ interests to communism.

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By going to the town of George, he tweaked the nose of Botha who represented the area in Parliament before becoming president. Terre Blanche ridiculed Botha’s senior cabinet ministers, drawing loud laughter and applause; he also outlined his vague and impossible ideas for a white-dominated nation state, to be founded and defended by force.

Terre Blanche, whose name aptly means “white earth,” has given strong backing in the coming elections to the official opposition in Parliament, the Conservative Party, which stands only a shade to the left of his movement. The Conservative Party will probably make major headway in the local elections, besting the government in many parts of the country. Terre Blanche’s showing in George demonstrated the Conservative strength right under the nose of President Botha.

Terre Blanche feeds on extremism. He attacks the dropping of the pass laws in South Africa that restricted blacks’ mobility, saying that police are now powerless to take action against blacks they find walking in white areas unless they have committed “rape or murder.” He blames South Africa’s sagging economic fortunes on the government, and notes, with veiled racism, that the rand has fallen not only against the dollar and other major currencies but against the Botswana pula as well. He uses racial denigration frequently, though obliquely.

Grim-faced, alert men flank him on the stage, with bulges at their hips. They are his armed bodyguards. One wonders what the authorities would do if an armed spectacle like this were seen at meetings of anti-apartheid organizations.

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His organization’s emblem, which his spokespersons say represents the triumph of Christianity over the anti-Christ, is made up of three sevens in a pattern that looks too similar to the Nazi swastika for comfort. He ends his lengthy oration with a quick wave of a raised hand, palm facing the audience--which also carries ominous overtones.

The politically astute Terre Blanche avoids direct calls for violence against the state, simply saying that if the government gives into black nationalism, as did the colonial powers in Africa, then his organization will, like the Boer commandos of old, take up arms to defend the Afrikaner.

Asked about calls in right-wing circles for the reprieve of two white policemen facing the gallows for premeditated murder of blacks, he solemnly urges people to “pray.” This is said while people in the audience murmur: “Give them a medal.” Similarly, when he speaks of Nelson Mandela, the 70-year-old incarcerated African National Congress leader, people in the audience cry: “Hang him before dawn.”

His defense plan for the white nation- state, where blacks presumably will be allowed to work under controlled conditions and with no political rights, is simple: Put a plowed strip around it, and if any unauthorized people of color try to cross, they will be blown up.

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All this might sound like the outpourings of an insignificant lunatic fringe to the Western mind. But Terre Blanche’s strength is that he is the Frankenstein created by a government that has enforced apartheid with repressive measures for years. If he could get more television time, he would wreak havoc. He begins his meetings with lengthy prayers, conducted by a clergyman, and ends with the singing of Pretoria’s official national anthem, Die Stem. He presents himself as the true believer, an Afrikaner superpatriot.

The parties of the right can probably draw close to half the strength of Afrikaners at the polls, and their support in the ranks of the police and the military could be much higher. Botha and his party have only themselves, and their past policies and attitudes, to blame for this.

A South Africa with Terre Blanche in an influential position would be an even more violent place, with more strikes, more international sanctions, more black resolve, more civil war. It would be an even grimmer place than now. But maybe that stage has to be gone through before its citizens find one another. It is a sobering thought.

When I returned home in March after six months abroad, my most powerful thought was that the white right wing was in the ascendancy. The small town of George confirmed this.

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