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Obituary: Eugene Terreblanche

Eugene Terreblanche in December 2006
The Afrikaner Resistance Movement came to prominence in the 1980s

The very name of South African paramilitary leader Eugene Terreblanche highlighted the white supremacist's roots.

Terreblanche means "white earth" in French, the language of the politician's Huguenot ancestors.

His murder - reportedly being hacked to death with a panga on his farm - brings a gory end to a singularly ineffectual political career.

Terreblanche, who was 69, and his Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement - AWB) came to prominence in the early 1980s.

At the time, the government of PW Botha was considering a constitutional plan allowing South Africa's Asian and coloured (mixed-race) minorities to vote for racially-segregated parliamentary chambers.

For the likes of Terreblanche, this was the start of the slippery slope towards democracy, communism, black rule and the destruction of the Afrikaner nation.

Claiming on occasion to be a cultural organisation - albeit one with sidearms and paramilitary uniforms - Terreblanche and his men promised to fight for the survival of the white tribe of Africa.

'The leader'

Their political heartland was in Ventersdorp - a decaying farming town amid the maize fields some 150km (100 miles) west of Johannesburg.

Eugene Terreblanche (R) is greeted by a die-hard supporters as he walks out of jail in June 2004
Eugene Terreblanche was reportedly hacked to death on his farm

From that base, the AWB established cells, mostly among the Afrikaans farmers in the north of the country - though occasionally Terreblanche would venture into urban Afrikaans communities to hold a public meeting.

"The leader" - as followers invariably called him - would arrive flanked by members of his black-clad inner circle, the Iron Guard.

"Cover him," an Estuary English accent would bark - the voice of Iron Guard commander Keith Conroy, the former British soldier reputed to speak barely a word of Afrikaans.

Terreblanche's thunderous voice and magnificent style of delivery - alternating between roar and husky whisper, with gestures to match - helped to disguise the complete meaninglessness of what he was saying.

His oratory would sweep from the plight of white farmers, to ancient Greek philosophy, to the state of the Soviet Union, without any apparent logic.

Terreblanche seemed to walk a tightrope between racist menace and national joke.

The occasion when he tumbled off his horse during one of his own military parades saw him fall down very heavily on the side of the joke - and that was before the embarrassment of the Jani Allen affair.

UK news reports had alleged that Ms Allen - a South African journalist - had had an affair with Terreblanche. Ms Allen sued for libel - and lost.

Throughout the court case, South Africans were treated to daily reports involving such details as the leader's torn green underpants, as seen through a keyhole by a witness.

Invasion

Yet as the 1994 elections approached, fears of a white right-wing militant backlash seemed more and more real.

Eugene Terreblanche (R) after release from jail in June 2004
Eugene Terreblanche was described as a master of the grand gesture

AWB members detonated bombs in urban locations, including one at Johannesburg's main airport - a terror campaign for which Terreblanche later accepted moral responsibility.

In another grand gesture, AWB fighters barged an armoured vehicle through the plate-glass doors of a building where constitutional negotiations were in progress.

But the AWB's most ambitious paramilitary exercise also proved to be its greatest humiliation. The movement took it upon itself to invade Bophuthatswana - one of the nominally independent "homelands" which the apartheid government had set up in a gesture towards black self-determination.

The image of three khaki-clad AWB fighters shot dead by Bophuthatswana's soldiers seemed to spell the end of any hopes the AWB may have had of seizing power by force.

About the same time, much of the AWB's political thunder was stolen by Constand Viljoen - a former head of the South African Defence Force who had left the political establishment after he felt it was drifting leftwards.

The quietly-spoken General Viljoen became the respectable face of the far right, preaching segregation rather than supremacism, and prepared to enter negotiations with the ANC over the possibility of setting up a small autonomous Afrikaner homeland.

The general's pragmatic approach won the support of right-wingers who were embarrassed by the antics of Terreblanche and others, and who were fast coming to terms with the fact that continued white domination of South Africa was a practical impossibility.

Bowing to the inevitable

In 1995 South African towns, which had always been segregated into white and black municipalities, voted for the first time for unified local authorities.

A young Afrikaner Resistance Movement supporter protests outside court while awaiting the arrival of Eugene Terreblanche in 2000
Terreblanche attracted a small but often devoted following

On voting day in Ventersdorp, Terreblanche and armed bodyguards put in a brief appearance - then retreated to their farms, leaving the town to vote in peace.

By now, even members of the Conservative Party, ultra right-wing by any normal standards, had accepted that white town councillors would have to bow to the inevitable and share a council chamber with black delegates - even with a young communist mayor who lived in a tin shack.

Voters expressed relief that Ventersdorp might now cease to be a national laughing stock.

Terreblanche served six months in prison in 2000 for assaulting a petrol attendant and setting his dog on him.

In 2001, he was jailed for the attempted murder of a farm-worker whom he beat so badly in 1996 that the man was left brain damaged.

Terreblanche's jail terms put the lid on any further speculation that his exaggerated posturing might have had any lasting influence on South Africa's political history.

When he was released on parole after serving three years of his sentence, he mounted his trusty black horse Attila after his release from prison.

In that moment, he showed that he was still as much a master of the grand gesture as he had been throughout his ineffectual political career.



SEE ALSO
South African Terreblanche killed
04 Apr 10 |  Africa
Life in pictures: Eugene Terreblanche
03 Apr 10 |  In Pictures
SA's Terreblanche freed from jail
11 Jun 04 |  Africa
Jail for Terreblanche
12 Mar 01 |  Africa
Afrikaner extremist surrenders
30 Mar 00 |  Africa


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