In the wake of the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), the impoverished and largely rural Afrikaners of present-day South Africa experienced an ethnic awakening, particularly regarding aspects of language, religion, and education. It was also, at first, largely an anti-English movement. In May 1918 a group of fourteen white men in Johannesburg formed an organization they called “Jong Suid-Afrika.” On June 5 this loose organization was recast as the Afrikaner Broederbond (AB), which aimed to bring together Afrikaners and to serve their interests. The constitution of the AB made it clear that only Afrikaners—in fact only “super-Afrikaners”—would be invited to join the group. In time, membership implied religious conservatism, linguistic priority, and racial prejudice. Young persons, especially students, were brought into the fold through a junior secret society, the Ruiterwag.
To better achieve their aims, the AB became a secret society in 1924, and henceforth membership was by invitation only. As a front the secret society employed the FAK (Federation of Afrikaner Cultural Organizations), established in 1929. The AB leadership had clearly conceptualized their role in South Africa. At the Bond Congress in August 1932 the chairman of the Executive Council, stated: “After the cultural and economic needs, the AB will have to dedicate its attention to the political needs of our people … the aim must be a completely independent real Afrikaans Government for South Africa” (du Toit 1976, p. 116). To this end, the AB surreptitiously supported the HNP (United National Party) under Daniel Francois Malan, who led the party to victory in the 1948 general elections. Meanwhile, AB leaders within the church justified the political policy of apartheid through the selective use of Biblical texts.
In 1965, Brian M. du Toit published Beperkte lidmaatskap (Restricted Membership), the first exposé of the AB. He pointed out that early members occupied prominent positions in the Afrikaans churches, educational institutions, and in the increasingly important industrial and business world. AB members looked and sounded like their neighbors, but their hidden agenda and prejudice was always uppermost in their values and decisions. Jan Hendrik Philippus Serfontein, in his study Brotherhood of Power (1978), explains that “for an Afrikaner who defects, or opposes the Broederbond, the price is terrible—total excommunication. He will be ostracized from Afrikaner society, and a man in business faces economic destruction” (p. 11). All persons in leadership positions, especially those in politics, were AB members.
The greatest challenge for South Africa’s leaders involved the multiethnic population. Beginning in 1948, D. F. Malan was able to prevent Indian representation in Parliament. In 1958 the new prime minister, Hendrik F. Verwoerd, introduced increasingly severe policies concerning geographical separation of “tribal” homelands (referred to as “Bantustans”), while a policy of residential separation (for blacks working in white areas) was used to prevent social contact. Laws on population registration, miscegenation, mixed marriages, and other issues were clearly based on skin color. As a political residue of more enlightened and liberal days, “colored” people remained on the voting roles in the Cape Province. When all vestiges of colored representation in Parliament were removed under Prime Minister John Vorster, however, the AB was ecstatic.
One of the best-kept secrets, and one of the most powerful instruments for the pursuit of the AB’s ideals, was a system of secret watchdog committees. Each committee included specialists in a particular field or profession, and the AB thus had its fingers on the very pulse of South Africa. The AB, through the government, directed an increasingly isolationist national policy. What started out as an anti-English cultural organization gradually became more exclusionist as a secret society that was instrumental in gradually ushering in total apartheid in South Africa. Blacks were only tolerated in “white areas” as workers, and coloreds and Indians had their own residential areas. The rest of South Africa was supposed to belong to whites, especially the Afrikaners guided by the AB.
As the race-based policies flowing from apartheid in South Africa reached fruition, they were increasingly challenged by those with more democratic sentiments. This included organizations representing the four “racial” groups, including the African National Congress, which represented black Africans. Some Afrikaners in leadership positions were covertly meeting with ANC members outside South Africa. In response, a number of organizations on the far right emerged, all aimed at maintaining a white society in a separate geographical region. Among these were the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB, founded in 1973); Vereniging van Oranjewerkers (Organization of Orange Workers, 1980); Afrikanervolkswag (Afrikaner People’s Guard, 1984); Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging (White Liberation Movement, 1985); Boere-Vryheidsbeweging (Boer Freedom Movement, 1989); and the Boerestaat (Boer State) Party (1990). Each of these movements had grandiose ideas about perpetuating a white South Africa, or at least retaining white ethnic enclaves in a future South Africa under majority rule. Some proclaimed themselves willing to take up arms to defend their claims.
The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) was formed in 1973 as a secret society in Heidelberg (Transvaal) by Eugene Terre Blanche and a few friends. In 1979 they abandoned the secrecy component to gain greater impact. This semi-militant, ultraconservative extremist group formed the Blanke Volkstaat Party (White People’s State Party) in 1980 and started working toward the ideal of a white homeland. Some members, finding that they had no political clout, disbanded the party in 1982, joining two rightist political parties, the Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP) and the Conservative Party (CP). But the AWB movement continued.
One wing of the movement, the Stormvalke (Storm Falcons) served as a military group, and in time they were replaced by the khaki-clad Wenkommando. The AWB operated through small vigilante cells, called Boere-Brandwag, consisting of seven to ten members. In 1990 the movement claimed approximately 150,000 active supporters, but only 15,000 registered members.
Other rightist spokesmen characterized the AWB as an emotional group structured around the personality of Eugene Terre Blanche, who was the most emotional and dynamic orator on the political scene. Carl Boshoff (a onetime chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond and the leader of the Vereniging van Oranjewerkers) told this writer in August 1990: “It is a glorious experience to hear him speak … but his plan is infeasible.” Most spokesmen for other groups agreed that his plans, namely to establish a volkstaat (nation state) that included the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and the Republic of Vryheid (this refers to the so-called Nieuwe Republiek formed in 1884 in northern Natal) was a complete illusion.
The AWB flag resembles a swastika. Terre Blanche denied its link to Nazism or to an anti-Christ symbolism of three sixes, insisting it is a pro-Christ configuration of three sevens. The flag and the movement, Terre Blanche claimed, served to galvanize conservative Afrikaners. In fact, he maintained, the CP would not have been the official opposition party if it were not for AWB support. In any case, Terre Blanche claimed, the CP parliamentarians were all members of the AWB. They opposed President de Klerk’s “giving away” the country to Nelson Mandela and the ANC.
Terre Blanche’s racist proclamations and treatment of blacks working on his and other farms in the Ventersdorp (western Transvaal) region frequently led to police confrontation and intervention. Eventually, he was sentenced to five years in jail for the attempted murder of a black security guard. He gained his freedom in June 2005.
Like all other political parties and movements, the AWB gradually dissolved. Ultra-conservative sentiments linger in the new South Africa and find expression in opposition organizations.
SEE ALSO Apartheid.
Booysen, Hercules. 1985. Dinamiese Konserwatisme. Pretoria: Oranjewerkers Promosies.
du Toit, Brian M. 1965. Beperkte Lidmaatskap. Cape Town: John Malherbe.
———. 1976. Configurations of Cultural Continuity. Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema.
———. 1991. “The Far Right in Current South African Politics.” Journal of Modern African Studies 29 (4): 627–667.
Lubbe, W. J. G., ed. 1983. Witman, Waar is jou Tuisland? Pretoria: Oranjewerkers Promosies.
Serfontein, J. H. P. 1978. Brotherhood of Power. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Wilkins, Ivor, and Hans Strydom. 1978. The Super-Afrikaners: Inside the Afrikaner Broederbond. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.
Brian M. du Toit