South Africa: a separate homeland for Afrikaners?
The death of Eugene Terreblanche has revived Afrikaner demands for their own homeland – and risks civil war. Jane Flanagan reports from Ventersdorp in South Africa
By Jane Flanagan in Ventersdorp, South Africa
Published: 9:20PM BST 10 Apr 2010
As I drink tea in the sitting-room of Daniel and Margrieta Dreyers, it is easy to forget that apartheid ever ended. The couple, wearing the combat fatigues of the right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) movement and surrounded by nick-nacks from a lifetime’s devotion to preserving the rituals and traditions of the Boers, South Africa’s original white settlers, are mourning the loss of their leader.
Mr and Mrs Dreyers have just returned from the funeral of Eugene Terreblanche and are filled with quiet anger over the loss of “Oom Gene” (Uncle Gene), under whose command of the AWB they had served for almost three decades. Looking through their “reminders of the golden years for the Afrikaners” offers them some comfort.
The porcelain ox wagon and drawings of the stout granite Voortrekker monument, arranged carefully around the room, bear testament to the Great Trek into the unforgiving South African hinterland 175 years ago, which earned the Afrikaners independence from the British and a reputation for being among the toughest and most resourceful pioneers in history.
“These treasures remind me why Afrikaners belong here, why we could never leave, and why we and South Africa are one and the same,” Mrs Dreyers, a 64-year-old grandmother of five, explains quietly.
Her husband adds: “We fight to keep our land because our people suffered so greatly to win it. We fought wars and lost fine men for it, we worked this soil until our hands bled. We made this country what it is. Nothing bad can be done to us that does not serve to make us stronger.”
Like an increasing number of Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans, Mrs and Mrs Dreyers believe the lawlessness in rural areas, which claims the lives of two or three white farmers or family members every week, can only end with another separation of whites and blacks. “A homeland for Afrikaners is what we want, and it is what God wants for us,” Mr Dreyers, 70, says, before expanding into the sort of rhetoric that made his leader reviled by both the black population and liberal whites.
“We have learned our lesson: black people cannot run a country. They inherited a priceless jewel and made it worthless. They have not got the wisdom – they will never have the wisdom – to run a country. We have tried to teach them, but they have not learned and they are not grateful for what we gave them. They wanted the whole cake, and now there are only crumbs left.”
Struggling to name a black person he did have any fondness for, Mr Dreyers, a retired tanner, can only offer: “I would have been happy to walk alongside Nelson Mandela, once he was freed from jail. But they must have had a good reason to lock him up in the first place.”
As a police helicopter buzzes over the single-storey house where the couple breed exotic birds for a living, Mrs Dreyers brings out the small handgun that she keeps close at night. “I was brought up on a farm and I have had a gun since childhood,” she says. Mr Dreyers adds: “We never sleep soundly. Life is unsettling for us, particularly after dark. We will only ever rest when we are in a homeland for our own people. Self-government has always been – and can only be – the answer for the Afrikaners.”
At the other end of Ventersdorp, the small town where Eugene Terreblanche lived, was murdered and is now buried, a group of uniformed volunteers from the Kommando Korps (KK) who had taken part in the funeral are tucking heartily into steaks and beers before the long drive home.
The KK was formed to provide self-defence training for Afrikaner communities who feel under threat in today’s South Africa. Most of them came from the capital, Pretoria, which the government wants to rename Tshwane to reflect its pre-colonial, African history: an example of what the Afrikaners regard as the dilution of their historic identity.
The volunteers are discussing the demands from some white activists for revenge against Julius Malema, the African National Congress youth leader accused of stoking up anti-white feeling with the resurrection of a former liberation song, which includes the refrain “Shoot the Boer”.
The KK’s commander, Franz Jooste, who likes to be referred to using the old Boer paramilitary rank of “Kommandant”, takes a different line. “Malema is the best recruitment officer we ever had,” he says. “Every time he opens his mouth, we are flooded with inquiries to join our ranks. The Afrikaners are mobilising again properly for the first time since 1994 [the year of the multi-racial elections]. It might be better for us to thank him rather than kill him.”
The KK was set up 20 years ago but has struggled to bring in new blood or funding in recent years. It runs training camps across the country to provide a pool of potential combatants if a war is declared against the Afrikaner people. In the meantime, unpaid KK operatives in military-style uniforms defend vulnerable white communities against what they describe as “a guerilla war” and “genocide”.
“All these attacks against white farmers and elderly Afrikaners are more than just about crime,” says 24-year-old Kobus de Lange, “otherwise why would they be so vicious? Is it necessary to pour boiling water into the ear of a defenceless old woman who can’t put up a fight? That is what happened to a lady who lives near me. What threat is she to a bunch of young black robbers?”
On the next table in the Rubicon restaurant, a bunch of hefty men, fuelled by drink and wearing the unofficial Boer uniform of khaki shorts and shirts, are loudly discussing various conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of Terreblanche, using abusive and racist language. “We call that type of Afrikaner the ‘Mandela generation’,” Jooste explains, shaking his head in disapproval. “They bought into the whole idea of the ‘Rainbow Nation’, and now they have come to the realisation that it was always an impossibility. They are bitter, disillusioned and have lost a lot of their dignity. We see a lot of their type, but once they have been through our training camps, they learn discipline and what it means to be a true Boer.”
The KK, too, believe a volkstaat [homeland] for the Afrikaners is the only way to prevent the country’s most serious race crisis since the end of apartheid from spilling over into civil war.
Abraham de Wet, a recent recruit to the Korps, acknowledges that the ANC government would never agree to such a solution. “The last thing the blacks want is to be separated from the whites. They cannot exist without us being there to feed them and to employ them. Look at what has happened in Zimbabwe – the white farmers produced enough food to feed not only the country’s entire population, but people in other black countries, too. The black people in Zim have got all the land they ever wanted and now they are starving.”
Jooste adds: “But if they [the government] do not give us the land, we will take it. The way in which we will do that is strategic and tactical and I cannot discuss it. But it really is the only future for us.”
Last week the AWB warned the 32 teams competing in the FIFA World Cup, which begins in South Africa in 60 days, that they could not rely on the host government to provide adequate protection for them or their fans. But for the KK, it is not the visitors from overseas who should be scared, but the ordinary white South Africans left vulnerable while resources are diverted to host cities.
“The police and paramedics and front-line services will be looking after the foreigners. That means even more South African farmers and their families will be at risk of murder,” Mr de Wet adds.
But does the “strategic and tactical” plan to secure a homeland for the Afrikaners include violent disruption to a great sporting event? Jooste laughs heartily. “Why do we need to bother ourselves with disrupting the World Cup? Since the blacks are organising it, they will mess it up quite well enough on their own.”