Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Friday, 11 June 2004 17:37 UK

Terreblanche's 'return to the future'

By Alastair Leithead
BBC, South Africa

Eugene Terreblanche
Terreblanche says he has found God while serving his term in jail

As a theatrical performance it had everything - except perhaps an audience.

Eugene Terreblanche was welcomed back to freedom by maybe two dozen die-hard supporters, with icons of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement's past.

The old flag of apartheid South Africa, the khaki uniforms, the swastika logo on a flag with a red background - throwbacks to a time when the white right commanded support and instilled fear in black South Africa.

But times have moved on - there were just two trumpeters struggling to hit the right notes, and the Terreblanche stiff-arm salute was welcomed by few, as he made his way forward to mount the black horse provided for the occasion.

The large crowd assembled in the conservative town of Potchefstroom had merely come to see the spectacle and have a good gawp at a piece of South African history. And they were not disappointed.

Ironic welcome

Armed with riding whip he took up the reins of his favourite horse, Attila, and with two outriders paraded through the streets waving at the rather bemused passers by and a few more smiling supporters who may perhaps share his ideas, but no longer have the stomach to shout them from the rooftops.

Scandals surrounding Eugene Terreblanche had eroded his support base even before he was sent to prison

But the parade was probably not what he was expecting - it was not khaki-clad fans who ran alongside chanting and cheering, but black South Africans singing liberation songs amid choruses of "viva democracy".

It was a strange scene, with one of the most notorious champions of right-wing supremacy lauded by his black fellow-countrymen, but this is sometimes a strange country.

"It's a warning," one of the cheerleaders told me.

"We are letting him know that the South Africa he's come back to is a different South Africa."

So they were mocking him in a scene of support from a group of people no longer afraid by his outdated ideology.

Back in the 1980s, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, or AWB as it was known, had influence as it battled to prevent apartheid's racist era from coming to an end - they even planted bombs in an effort to disrupt the first democratic elections.

'Deeply changed'

A white Afrikaner state, and the preservation of Afrikaans language and culture was what they were fighting for. But times have moved on - the far right collected just a sprinkling of votes in this year's election.

And scandals surrounding Eugene Terreblanche had eroded his support base even before he was sent to prison - first for badly beating a petrol station attendant and setting his dog on him and then for attempting to murder a black security guard - a man so badly injured that he suffered brain damage in the attack.

The Xhosa people and the Zulu people do not have any white people as members of their nation and they are not seen as racists, I don't understand why we are
Andries Versagie
AWB chairman

But looking his 60 years, his white beard attached to a smaller frame than the man that went into an almost entirely black prison three years ago, he announced to the assembled media that he had changed and found God.

"I believe I am deeply changed in the knowledge that I am only man, and my creator, Jesus Christ, the father, the son and the holy spirit, will give me the right commands to live my life as an honourable citizen who also knows his duty to his Boer folk," he said.

He answered questions about his future and the future of the AWB with talk of flower beds and roses, of peace and of passion for the land.

None of it really made much sense - whether that was a changed man, or just for the media's benefit is another matter.

'Boer nation'

If his views have changed his few supporters might be disappointed - the current chairman of the AWB re-affirmed their policies and approach.

"We are not racist," said Andries Versagie, "but we are purely the Boer nation and we do not have space in our midst for any other nation apart from the Boer people.

"The Xhosa people and the Zulu people do not have any white people as members of their nation and they are not seen as racists, I don't understand why we are."

There just is not the support for the far right in South Africa any more - there are a few who still demand a white homeland, and other disgruntled Afrikaners frustrated by the new democracy, but few left with the will to pursue such far-right ideology.

Eugene Terreblanche may well now drift into obscurity, and into a past where many believe he belongs.

video and audio news
The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"There was no longer fear among the cheering black South Africans"

Obituary: Eugene Terreblanche
04 Apr 10 |  Africa
Terreblanche set for jail release
04 Jun 04 |  Africa
Jail for Terreblanche
12 Mar 01 |  Africa
Terreblanche: Full of sound and fury
30 Mar 00 |  Africa
Afrikaner extremist surrenders
30 Mar 00 |  Africa

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