Afrikaner Resistance Movement
Afrikaner Resistance Movement
LEADER: Eugene Terreblanche
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: South Africa
The Afrikaner Resistance Movement was formed in 1973 in South Africa in response to the growing anti-apartheid sentiment that was threatening the white supremacy that had ruled the country. Rooted in Afrikaner nationalism, Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, or the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), sought to disrupt the movement toward inclusion of blacks in the South African government. The group, led by Eugene Terreblanche, operated campaigns of intimidation and explosives attacks during the 1980s and 1990s.
The first permanent European settlement in South Africa occurred in 1652 as the Dutch settled at the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch presence would grow in the next decades and successfully quell the attempt by Africans to expel the settlers. European powers encouraged emigration to South Africa by offering free land to those willing to settle there. The Boer, as the migrant farmers of French, Dutch, and German heritage came to be known, facilitated the expansion of settlements by seizing control of land occupied by Africans. Meanwhile, the European powers struggled for positions of power over the settlements. By 1814, the British had gained control. As the colony began to industrialize, relations between the British and the Dutch-speaking Boers became contentious. In addition, the discovery of gold brought an increase of English-speaking immigrants. The Afrikaner movement enveloped the Boers as the Dutch-speakers sought to promote their national identity. S. J. du Toit, a Dutch Reformed minister, published two works supporting the belief that Afrikaners were a separate group of people with their own connection to their fatherland in South Africa, a newspaper Die Afrikaanse Patriot (The Afrikaner Patriot), and a book, Die Geskiedenis van ons Land in die Taal van ons Volk (The History of Our Land in the Language of Our People). Eventually, the British and Afrikaner differences developed into the South African War (1899–1902). Although the British were successful in the war, the Afrikaner movement was galvanized. Afrikaners set up their own schools and celebrated their distinct language.
In 1914, Europe was at war. As a British dominion, the leadership in South Africa entered the war on the side of the British and to the protest of the Afrikaners. During this time, J. B. M. Hertzog formed the National Party of South Africa. Hertzog promoted Afrikaner nationalism and a policy of mutual-aid—Afrikaners helping Afrikaners. As the policy of segregation developed into the policy of apartheid, the Afrikaner national movement also grew.
However, by the 1980s, the political climate moved toward dismantling apartheid. The government of P.W. Botha was considering a plan that would grant the constitutionally protected right to vote to the Asian and mixed-race minorities. The founding members of the AWB believed that this was the first step toward communism, black rule, and the demise of the Afrikaner national identity. As a result, resistance organizations emerged to retain white supremacy in South Africa. The Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) became prominent during this time. The group was formed in Heidelberg, Transvaal, and eventually moved its headquarters to the farming town of Ventersdorp, west of Johannesburg. The AWB developed cells of operation among the Afrikaner farmers who resided in the north, as well as a few urban community cells. The group claimed to be a cultural organization intent on the survival of the Afrikaner national identity, while wearing paramilitary uniforms and carrying side arms.
In 1994, the AWB sought to disrupt the election process and was determined to see the African National Congress—a black political organization led by Nelson Mandela—be destroyed. As a result, AWB members detonated bombs in many urban locations, including an attack on the Johannesburg airport. These bombings killed more than 20 people. In addition, the group sought to disrupt constitutional negotiations by driving an armored vehicle through the doors of the building where the negotiations were taking place. The most publicized activity occurred in the nominally independent Bophuthatswana. The AWB entered the region in paramilitary fashion, wearing khaki uniforms and brandishing their flag—which bears a resemblance to the Nazi flag. However, the AWB was met by Bophuthatswana police, a meeting that left three AWB militants dead.
- Seven like-minded Afrikaners meet and create the AWB in Heidelberg, Transvaal, with the goal to protect the Afrikaner national identity and promote white supremacy.
- The AWB attempts to disrupt elections by detonating bombs in Pretoria and Johannesburg, killing more than 20 people.
- Three AWB militants are killed after entering the region of Bophuthatswana.
- Terreblanche accepts responsibility, as leader of the AWB, for the 1994 bombings that killed more than 20 people.
- Terreblanche is jailed for the 1996 attempted murder of a black security guard.
- Terreblanche is released from jail and promises to develop the AWB into a political party that can serve as the voice of the right wing in South Africa.
In 2001, the leader of the AWB, Eugene Terreblanche, was sentenced to five years in prison for a 1996 attack on a black man. After serving three years of his sentence, Terreblanche was released. Still clinging to his self-appointed role of protector of the Afrikaners, Terreblanche asserted that the AWB would move toward politics to become the voice of the right wing.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The AWB is described as a white supremacy, neo-Nazi organization. During the early 1990s as South Africa moved toward a multiracial democracy, the AWB warned of a "holy war." The AWB belief in their rights to the land is rooted in their understanding of the colonial experience in South Africa. Terreblanche stated, "Most overseas people do not understand our history. They think we stole the land from the blacks. Well, that's not true. What happened is, the white people moved from the south to the north. The Transvaal was vast and open and lonely, with more or less no blacks. We built the cities; we worked and developed the mines. The blacks were here for centuries. They walked on diamonds and didn't even pick them up, because they didn't realize the value of what they had. Now they want our mines. Well, we want our land back. It's as simple as that." The AWB views the granting of racial equality under the law tantamount to the introduction of communism and the end of the Afrikaner nation.
In order to protect their believed claim to the land, the AWB embarked on intimidation campaigns and beatings. In 1994, the group expanded their tactic to include detonating bombs in urban locations in an attempt to disrupt the multiracial elections. Currently, much of the AWB activities surround the speeches given by the group's leader, Eugene Terreblanche.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the AWB were viewed as a voice against the African National Congress. However, since the 1994 election, the AWB has slowly lost its membership. Much of the impressions of the AWB are based on the group's leader, Eugene Terreblanche. Terreblanche is seen as "[walking] a tightrope between racist menace and national joke." Although the AWB is viewed as "still virulently racist, the AWB has mostly become a beer-drinking club for Afrikaners who still want to wear uniforms and complain about black rule." The group is considered largely benign, the national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi stated, "They don't have the potential to overthrow the state, but we take any threat to peace seriously."
The group targeted its opposition toward the African National Congress (ANC)—a black political organization that operated since 1912 and participated in violence between 1970 and the end of apartheid in 1994. The ANC promoted a policy of constitutionally guaranteed racial equality. In order to create this change, the ANC advocated the Marxist-inspired nationalization of banks and mines. These mines had been operated by white settlers and Afrikaners since the discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa.
Terreblanche's 'Return to the Future'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Source: BBC News, 2004
In 1973, in Heidleburg, Transvaal, a group of Afrikaners met. The group formed an Afrikaner nationalist organization called Afrikaner Weestandsbeweging, or the Afrikaner Resistance Movement. The group sought to protest the movement in South Africa toward a multiracial democracy. In particular, the group viewed the proposed constitutionally granted right to vote to minority races as the first steps toward communism, black rule, and the end of the Afrikaner national identity. The AWB believes that the Afrikaners are a distinct group in South Africa with a unique national identity. The AWB sought to protect that heritage.
During the 1980s and 1990s, as the South African government moved toward an end to the policy of apartheid, racially motivated violence increased. The AWB asserted that if the policies of apartheid were successfully dismantled, the group would embark on a "holy war." As a result, the AWB began by launching a campaign of intimidation. The group followed this by detonating bombs in urban locations, including the Johannesburg airport. The AWB also marched into the region Bophuthatswana. However, the group was met by Bophuthatswana police, resulting in the deaths of three AWB militants.
In 1994, the first multiracial elections occurred despite the AWB actions to derail the process, such as detonating bombs in Pretoria and Johannesburg. These attacks caused the deaths of more than 20 people. The election resulted in the rise to power of the ANC—the political black organization led by Nelson Mandela. As the ANC rose to power, the AWB began to lose its membership. By 1998, the leader of the AWB, Eugene Terreblanche, took responsibility for the deaths occurring in Pretoria and Johannesburg. In 2001, Terreblanche was sentenced to five years in jail for the 1996 beating of a black man. He was released three years later and greeted by a group of 20 supporters. Upon his release, Terrblanche suggested that the AWB would move toward becoming a political organization and the voice of the extreme right wing in South Africa.
Eugene Terreblanche is the most prominent leader of the AWB. Terreblanche travels flanked by members of his inner circle called the "Iron Guard." He often emerges from his Ventersdorp farm to give speeches promoting the promises of the AWB to oppose the black government in South Africa. In 1998, Terreblanche took responsibility, as the leader of the AWB, for the 1994 bombings in which more than 20 people died. In 2001, Terreblanche was sentenced to five years in jail for the attempted murder of a black security guard. He served three years and was released. Upon his release, he resumed control of a member-diminished AWB.
Byrnes, Rita M. "A Country Study: South Africa." Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. May 1996.
Hawthorne, Peter. "No Laughing Matter. A Shadowy Group of Racist Afrikaners Is Plotting to Bring Down the Government." Time International. October 21, 2001.
Ryan, Michael. "Up Front: Hope Meets Hatred in South Africa." People. April 9, 1990.
"World: South Africa, The Wind Rises in Welkom in Defense of Apartheid." Time. May 28, 1990.
BBC News Online. "Profile: Eugene Terreblanche." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3797797.stm〉 (accessed October 10, 2005).
BBC News Online. "South Africa's Terreblanche Freed from Jail." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3796467.stm〉 (accessed October 10, 2005).
Audio and Visual Media
National Public Radio, Morning Edition. "Soldiers Sent to Bophuthatswana to Protect Embassy." March 11, 1994.