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80,000 Afrikaners Launch White ‘Freedom Struggle’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The frightened, the angry and the bitter gathered in their tens of thousands on the grassy slopes of Afrikanerdom’s holiest shrine Saturday to launch a white “freedom struggle” against the government for betraying the Afrikaner heritage.

As families nibbled at picnic lunches, lovers held hands and older folks teased their grandchildren, one man raised a handmade cardboard sign that seemed to speak for the assembled masses: “Viva Witman"--"Long Live the White Man.”

“We whites are here to stay. We are here to fight,” said Adriaan du Preez, a 58-year-old machinist. “We have no problem with the black, the Indian, the (mixed-race) Colored. It’s this government we’ve got a problem with.”

About 80,000 Afrikaners, descendants of the first white settlers of South Africa, turned out at the Voortrekker Monument in a significant show of support for the right-wing Conservative Party, which favors continued apartheid and a separate homeland for Afrikaners.

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In recent months, the conservatives have gained support among whites who oppose President Frederik W. de Klerk’s rapid reforms and his willingness to speak with the African National Congress and its ally, the Communist Party.

De Klerk, the object of their disdain, stepped off a plane in Johannesburg earlier Saturday after an 18-day journey to European capitals that was widely praised for opening doors long closed to South African leaders.

“South Africa’s pride has been restored,” De Klerk said. He added that the positive response to his reform initiatives from European leaders suggests that the days of South Africa’s economic and diplomatic isolation are coming to a close.

“A substantial change in the relations between Europe with South Africa will come soon,” De Klerk told about 1,000 people at the airport to welcome him home. “And through Europe, the international community will follow.”

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ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela, meanwhile, told 60,000 blacks in a township west of Pretoria on Saturday that the Conservative Party is fomenting white opposition to peaceful solutions, and he urged whites to support De Klerk’s reforms.

But Mandela said he is unhappy with the slow pace of reform and he said he would soon be making his own journey to Europe to urge heads of state to continue sanctions until De Klerk takes irreversible steps to end apartheid.

De Klerk’s reform plans and his talks with Mandela and the ANC are under attack by the growing numbers and increasing militancy of right-wing whites. Clashes between far-right extremists and blacks in the mining town of Welkom in recent weeks could spread to other conservative towns in South Africa, political analysts say.

A recent survey conducted by the liberal Human Rights Trust Monitor found that more than 50% of all Afrikaners, who themselves account for about half of the 5 million whites in South Africa, now support the Conservative Party. And the poll indicated that between 9% and 13% of the ruling National Party’s support has swung to the Conservatives since the last election.

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National Party leaders maintain, however, that they have more than made up for that drain by gains from the liberal white Democratic Party, which has supported all of De Klerk’s reforms. Together, the National and Democratic parties collected 75% of the vote in last September’s elections.

The right-wing gathering in Pretoria coincided with the anniversary of the National Party’s 1948 victory, which ushered in the legal system of apartheid. The Conservative Party was formed in the early 1980s after a split with the National Party over the first steps of reform.

Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht made a ceremonial journey to the rally on horseback Saturday, stopping to place floral wreaths at the foot of several Afrikaner monuments. He arrived to cheers at the Voortrekker Monument, a stone edifice that commemorates an Afrikaner “pact with God” that allowed a band of settlers to defeat a much larger Zulu force in 1838.

Treurnicht, a theologian, said God “had divided people into separate lands” because he expected them to live apart. And he said the talk of “togetherness, harmony and fellowship among the races is not the true meaning of the Bible.”

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Treurnicht also said his party would use “the constitutional road” to fight the government, and he outlined a political strategy that includes a petition to force De Klerk to call new elections, a party membership drive and an effort to win an upcoming election to fill a vacant parliamentary seat.

Treurnicht also called on moderate black leaders, such as Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, “to stand with us against the terrorism of the ANC and its Communist allies.”

The Conservative leader stopped short of encouraging right-wing violence, but he criticized the government for “integrationist, abdication politics” and warned De Klerk “not to force our people to stand in the road so you have to run us over.”

If the government thwarts the Conservatives’ efforts, he said, Afrikaners will be forced to resort to the tactics of black revolutionaries.

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“Rebellion is allowed if you’re a proud people,” Treurnicht said. “And this is our fatherland. You haven’t got enough jails to hold the Afrikaner nationalists captive.”

The Conservatives have an uneasy relationship with militant right-wing groups, such as the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, or AWB, which has been arming and training its members to fight any attempt to take Afrikaner land.

Far-right groups have in recent weeks mounted vigilante patrols in Welkom and other communities, and several blacks have been killed. A few days ago, suspected far-right extremists triggered an explosion at a Pretoria museum where the Boera(Afrikaner farmer) republics surrendered to the British in 1902 after the Anglo-Boer war.

At the rally Saturday, AWB members carrying their flag, which bears a swastika-like insignia, attempted to join a procession of Afrikaner flags. But the flag-bearers were turned back by apologetic Conservative Party officials, who said only flags of the old Boer republics were allowed.

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The rally was mostly peaceful, with a choir singing Afrikaner folk songs, merchants dispensing soft drinks and traditional Afrikaner dishes and hawkers selling T-shirts bearing the words: “The Boer Is Here to Stay.”

An American black reporter was turned away from the rally by angry whites, one of whom hurled a rock that missed. A police officer on duty suggested the reporter leave, saying he could not guarantee her safety.

Many whites at the rally said they were alarmed by the beginning of negotiations with the ANC, which represents most of the black majority of 27 million. And they fear that a black government is not far away.

“They’ll just give everything away to the blacks,” said Arthur Nicolls, a 44-year-old civil servant.

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“We don’t hate blacks,” added Adriaan du Preez. “We are Westernized. We are Christians. We aren’t aggressive people. We are civilized people. And we want to stay in South Africa.

“But when threatened we will respond,” Du Preez said. “That’s as sure as the heaven beyond the sun.”

BACKGROUND The Dutch-descended Afrikaners’ most important holiday, the Day of the Vow, commemorates Dec. 16, 1838, when a band of frightened white farmers, heavily outnumbered by Zulu warriors, circled their 64 wagons and promised to set the day aside to praise God if they emerged victorious. So much blood was spilled in the battle that the place was named Blood River. The victory was crucial to the Great Trek, the mass journey of Afrikaner rebels from the Cape Colony and British rule. The survivors settled in what later became the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.


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