JOTTINGS FROM JOHANNESBURG
Right wing violence
Peter van der Merwe
Published: 01-JAN-03

Eight years after South Africa's astonishingly peaceful emergence from the shadows of apartheid to become the worlds rainbow nation, the spectre of right-wing violence has reared its ugly head again, threatening to strike at the very foundations of the country's fledgling democracy.

Even before the series of bombs, which rocked Soweto and Bronkhorstspuit in early November (2002), police had already rounded up more than 20 right wingers on suspicion of plotting to destabilize - and ultimately overthrow - the government. Many commentators were surprised, given that the right wing in South Africa would, in recent years, have battled to organise a decent drinking session in a brewery.

Their past exploits (remember their abortive incursion into the puppet apartheid "state" of Bophuthatswana?) have been notoriously fragmented and lacking in coherent leadership. They have talked a very good fight, but have shown a tendency to leave their wounded on the battlefield and bolt for the cover of their farms or comfortable suburban fortresses at the slightest hint of trouble.

Police believe the newest right wing threat is an altogether different kettle of fish. The recent bombs, which killed one woman and destroyed the main railway line into Johannesburg, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded, are widely seen as a "dry run" for more telling strikes in future. Indeed, the timely arrest of some 13 alleged plotters, including' three army officers, earlier this year is thought to have prevented similar attacks on the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last August.

South African police have since stepped up the aptly-named Operation Zealot, which is aimed at bringing to book the leaders of shadowy organizations with names like the Boeremag (roughly translated, the Boer Force). They arrested one of the plotters-in-chief while he was trying to get a US visa, and pictures of six leading suspects have been emblazoned across the front pages of the country's newspapers.

But for all the media's gleefully sensationalist coverage of the situation, it is unclear how seriously the public is taking the threat posed by the loony right. The situation is not being made

South African military, and to a lesser extent the police, are still hotbeds of white Afrikanerdom

any clearer by the slew of conspiracy theories emerging on talk radio shows. These include such gems as the notion that the government set the bombs itself as an excuse to crack down on the right, or, even more bizarrely, that taxi operators set the Soweto bombs in an attempt to generate extra business for them- selves while the trains were out of commission.

These ramblings only serve to divert attention from what are some extremely sobering implications - and some relevant issues, like why this is happening and who is behind the new upsurge in right-wing activity.

For one, it is clear that the South African military, and to a lesser extent the police, are still hotbeds of white Afrikanerdom, in spite of the government's best attempts to transform these institutions. Let it be said, right now, that the vast majority of these white Afrikaners are loyal, law-abiding people. However, the fact that former members of racist units like Koevoet, Vlakplaas, the Civil Cooperation Bureau and military intelligence are still serving is part of the problem.

These are people who were intimately involved in the torture and murder of black activists and, in the apartheid regime's final days, played devious roles in fomenting black-on-black violence. It is clear now that these people, many of whom believe themselves above the law, maintain a subversive agenda.

At the government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), they either lied blatantly or hid like cowards behind a self-preserving code of silence known as bly op die bus (quite literally, to "stay on the bus"). They demanded blanket amnesty without testifying.

The point, belatedly, is that the current rightwing is being masterminded by extremists within the armed forces, many of whom are well known to the government and are relics of a bygone era. They must be cut out ruthlessly.

To be fair, the Afrikaners have some legitimate grievances. They fear that their language is being purged from schools and universities. They fear that their land will be seized, a la Mugabe, and given to blacks. They fear that they are the chief targets in the government's affirmative action policies, though the National Party's record in this regard in the past makes the ANC look like rank amateurs.

What the far right really wants, though, is its own homeland - and it is clearly ready to seek it by violent means. President Mbeki must squash this grand illusion, along with the newly-nascent right wing, if the country is to avoid a debilitating race war it neither needs nor deserves.





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