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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Firebrand white supremacist was defiant to the end

THE white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche was the biggest threat to the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa and established majority rule in 1994.

During the transition from apartheid, following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, to the general election of 1994, Terreblanche gave warning of a civil war in South Africa if white rule were to end. He tried to rally white support by raising fears of a communist regime under Mandela and organised a terrorist campaign to rouse popular Afrikaner support. But he failed to prevent Mandela being elected as the first non-white president of modern South Africa and thereafter his influence and credibility faded.

Terreblanche -- whose name translated in French as "white land" -- roused fear and notoriety for the obvious parallels to Nazism of his Afrikaner resistance movement: Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), which had powerful backing.

The aim of the AWB, its paramilitary wing, the Storm Falcons, and a guerrilla unit known as the Ystergarde (Iron Guard), was the establishment of a white, Boer nation with a strict puritanical ethic in the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal. The similarity to Nazism was reinforced by the use of a swastika-style flag.

Terreblanche was a powerful orator, with Jewish capitalists, the African National Congress and liberal journalists all victims of his venomous rhetoric. Afrikaners, he insisted, were God's chosen people and the AWB was prepared to take up arms to protect their rights.

Eugene Terreblanche was born in Ventersdorp, South Africa, in 1941. Of French Huguenot descent, his grandfather, Etienne, was a rebel from the British Cape Colony who fought for the Boers against the British in the second Boer War. His father was a lieutenant-colonel in the South African Defence Force.

As a young man Eugene was one of the elite presidential bodyguards, but he felt the apartheid government of the late 1960s, led by Prime Minister BJ Vorster, was far too liberal. With six others he founded the AWB in 1970 and its membership grew rapidly to 70,000.

His willingness to take up arms was shown in 1983 when he was convicted of illegal possession of arms and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, suspended for five years.

With the end of apartheid in the offing following Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990, FW De Klerk addressed a meeting in Terreblanche's hometown of Ventersdorp in 1991. Terreblanche led a protest, and the "Battle of Ventersdorp" ensued between the 2,000 AWB members and the police. Three AWB members were killed.

In June 1993 he and his supporters stormed and occupied the World Trade Centre in Johannesburg, bringing to a temporary halt the all-party negotiations that led to majority rule in 1994. A bombing campaign before the general election in 1994 resulted in the death of 21 people.

Terreblanche's threats of a full-scale civil war did not materialise. His admission of defeat was confirmed when he sought amnesty for the storming of the World Trade Centre and the "Battle of Ventersdorp" which was granted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

His AWB powerbase began to crumble away and he lost much credibility among his deeply Calvinistic supporters in 1998 when he was alleged to have had an affair with a liberal Anglo-South African journalist, Jani Allan. She had written a series of sympathetic articles about him, memorably saying that she was smitten by "the blue flames of his blowtorch eyes".

In June 2001 Terreblanche was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he served three years, for assaulting a petrol station worker and the attempted murder of a security guard in 1996.

However, Terreblanche proved his enduring appeal in 2004 when he was voted number 25 in a national survey of 100 Great South Africans by the TV station SABC3. An accompanying TV series was cancelled amid the controversy.

He reactivated the AWB in March 2008 by "popular demand" because of discontent among white Afrikaners over an electricity crisis, alleged corruption across government departments and crime. He staged rallies in Vryburg, Middelburg, Mpumalanga and Pretoria to call for a "free Afrikaner republic". He promised to take his campaign to the United Nations' International Court of Justice in The Hague.

He was beaten to death on Saturday on his farm in Ventersdorp, apparently in a dispute with two farm workers over unpaid wages. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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