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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 16:32 GMT
Violent threat from SA white right
Eugene Terreblanche
The discredited face of the white right

The latest bomb attacks in South Africa have been blamed on white, far right-wing groups.

No-one has claimed responsibility for the blasts in Soweto and near Pretoria, but President Thabo Mbeki says government information indicated "that the right wing have the intention to conduct a campaign" to destabilise South Africa.


The extreme right has neither the capacity nor the allies to pose a real threat...It would be naive, however, to presume that they cannot create disorder and destruction.

Martin Schonteich, security analyst

The bomb attacks came just over a month after the discovery of a plot by a group of Afrikaner right-wingers to carry out armed attacks against the government.

This dispelled the view that violent action by white, right-wing extremists was a thing of the past.

The fear of a campaign of violence by right-wing groups with military connections haunted the elections which brought the first black-led government to power in 1994.

An abortive attempt by armed Afrikaners to seize control of the black homeland of Bophuthatswana in March 1994 and a series of bloody bomb attacks days before the elections made this threat a very real one.

But with the exception of a few isolated incidents over the last eight years, the right-wing spectre had dissolved into thin air.

Military involved

The latest bomb attacks were well coordinated and indicated a high-level of organisation.

South African newspapers and security commentators said the nature of the explosions suggested they involved people with military training.

This has again raised fears that disgruntled members of the armed forces could be involved in a right-wing plot to undermine the government.

In 1994, it was feared that the white-dominated officer corps of the army, members of the feared military intelligence network and pro-apartheid extremists could work to disrupt the voting and the formation of a post-apartheid government.

It did not happen then and the right wing lost momentum.

But on 26 September, a group of educated, prosperous white Afrikaners appeared in court charged with plotting to attack military bases with the aim of establishing an Afrikaner homeland.

They included doctors and engineers but, most worryingly of all, senior serving officers in the South African National Defence Force.

AWB member
The AWB has a paramilitary wing

But there was no indication that they had any direct relationship with past right-wing groups such as Eugene Terreblanche's Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) or the Conservative Party.

Some Afrikaner commentators believe there could be links, even just ideological ones, between those plotters and the people responsible for the latest attacks.

Lunatic fringe

Tim du Plessis, editor of the Afrikaans newspaper Rapport, told BBC News Online that they are part "of a lunatic right-wing fringe" which included serving and former defence force officers.

Their ideas are "very weird", he said, and some have been known to call themselves Israel Vision and to have their own version of the Bible, which depicts black people as sub-humans.

They do not seriously threaten the government or the security of South Africa, but Mr du Plessis believes that they could cause serious loss of life and damage and sow distrust in what is still a fragile society.

He told the BBC that the City Press, the sister black newspaper to his Afrikaans one, had already received messages from its black readers threatening reprisal attacks against whites, particularly farmers.

He said this was the real danger - that attacks by extremists could provoke revenge attacks which would then cause greater fear and distrust among a white community which he said was "not a bunch of happy campers".

There is so far no firm evidence of who carried out the attacks but most fingers are pointing at white extremists of this sort.

Old right disappears

The old-style right wing does not seem to be involved.

The best-known element of that movement was the AWB - a Nazi-like movement keen on paramilitary uniforms and with a mainly Afrikaner working class or rural membership.

It pledged to fight black rule and intervened militarily in an uprising in the apartheid-created homeland of Bophuthatswana.

Armed white extremists
The Bophuthatswana raid humiliated the AWB

That intervention was a disaster and ended in defeat and humiliation for the AWB.

Its fortunes declined and it more or less disappeared from the political scene after the jailing in March 2000 of its larger-than-life leader Eugene Terreblanche on assault charges.

Similarly, the Conservative Party, which admitted to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that it had planned the murder of ANC military leader Chris Hani in 1993, has melted away.

Disorder and destruction

Since the 1994 elections, there have been sporadic but largely ineffective attacks by right-wing groups.

But then in September and October, came the coup plot and the bombing campaign.

Soweto search at mosque
Police are searching for clues

While this does not suggest an imminent uprising or something that will bring the government to its knees, it could be the start of a tense period for South Africa.

As Martin Schonteich of the South African Institute for Security Studies has written in the Mail and Guardian newspaper:

"The extreme right has neither the capacity nor the allies to pose a real threat to the South African Government.

"It would be naive, however, to presume that they cannot create disorder and destruction on a significant scale."

See also:

30 Oct 02 | Africa
16 Jun 02 | Africa
16 Jun 01 | Africa
13 Jun 01 | Africa
11 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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