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Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK

World: Africa

Afrikaner brotherhood embraces new SA

The ex-Broederbond exerted its influence in parliament

The Afrikanerbond, the secretive white nationalist group which played a key role in implementing South Africa's former apartheid policies, says it now intends to co-operate with the new government.

The organisation, previously known as the Broederbond (Society of Brothers) said it wanted to promote social and economic progress by acting as a conduit between the government and people who had expertise to offer.

[ image: President Mbeki: Call for unity]
President Mbeki: Call for unity
"We see our role as facilitator," Afrikanerbond spokesman Tom de Beer told the South African Press Association.

"In this capacity we can bring together interest groups from the Afrikaans community and the government," Mr de Beer said.

The society stressed it wanted to remain outside of party politics.

Mbeki's call

The apparent change of heart follows a call to Afrikaners by President Thabo Mbeki last month to involve themselves more in South Africa's future development.

[ image: The Broederbond was most powerful during the apartheid years]
The Broederbond was most powerful during the apartheid years
Afrikaners are descended from 17th Century Dutch settlers, whose descendants later moved into the interior of South Africa to escape British colonial influence at the coast.

The Broederbond was founded in 1918 to promote the interests of Afrikaners who felt that English speakers were keeping them out of positions of power in politics and in business, following the British victory in the 1899-1902 Boer War.

The Broederbond helped to consolidate Afrikaner influence, which led to the 1948 election victory by the National Party.

The BBC's Martin Turner: "Membership is now open to women and all ethnic races"
The society then played a role in shaping and implementing the policies of racial segregation which dominated South Africa for the next 40 years.

Although it always insisted it was non-political, the Broederbond exerted a strong influence on the selection of candidates for parliamentary and cabinet seats - most of whom were returned unopposed.

'No longer exclusive'

Mr de Beer said the society - once exclusively white and male - now has about 14,000 members, including 700 women and 200 "people of colour."

He said the organisation would consider membership applications from anyone aged over 18, irrespective of race or gender, provided they subscribed to the group's constitution.

Or, as the Afrikanerbond's own website puts it: "In the new political dispensation an exclusive male organisation open to white Afrikaans speakers would not have gone unnoticed".

The group's present constitution avoids the use of the word "Afrikaner", preferring to talk about "Afrikaans speakers" or "the Afrikaans-speaking community".

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