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Is the white-right in South Africa a threat?

Recent sentencing of extremist coup plotters highlights right-wing's discontent.

Last Modified: 07 Nov 2013 10:27
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Brothers Andre du Toit (C) and Mike (R) du Toit stand in the dock of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria [EPA]

Pretoria, South Africa - It was a brazen plot to reinstall white rule in South Africa, and evict all people of colour from its borders.

To trigger the overthrow of the African National Congress-led government, anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela would be assassinated by a roadside bomb when he visited a rural school to open it.

In the chaos that ensued, the white supremacists would install military rule and expel some 40 million black South Africans to Zimbabwe, and another 1.2 million Indians to South Asia.

As fate would have it, the 2002 plan to kill Mandela failed when he flew to the school by helicopter instead of driving. It was a plot that - had it succeeded - would have unleashed violence among races and, at the very least, greatly destabilised the young democracy.

“Mandela would have been killed that day if he hadn’t taken a helicopter,” said judge Eben Jordaan, reading out the verdict in Pretoria’s High Court last week after members of the right-wing Boeremag group were convicted and sentenced.

Many people are angry. Especially the people who support this and who are concerned by the conditions in South Africa. You know, the farm murders and things like that.

- Lorraine du Toit, daughter of the leader of a plot to kill Nelson Mandela

“This would have caused chaos and bloodshed in the country. The Boeremag’s aim was to destroy democracy in South Africa."

Mandela - the Nobel Peace Prize winner and the country’s first black president - spent 27 years in jailing for opposing apartheid. At age 95, Mandela is currently recovering from a lung ailment that hospitalised him earlier this year.

Deterrent

The 10-year long court process was South Africa’s longest and one of its most expensive trials. It was the first high treason trial in South Africa’s post-apartheid era and is believed to have cost taxpayers about 100 million rand (US$9.8 million).

Government spokesman Harold Maloka praised the court’s decision. “These sentences will act as a deterrent to those who threaten the stability of our hard-fought democracy,” he said in a statement.  

While many were happy justice was finally served, some supporters and family members expressed outrage over the high treason verdicts. 

“I cried so much, I don’t even know what was going on around me,” said Lorraine du Toit, daughter of Mike du Toit, a leader of the plot to kill Mandela who was given a maximum 35-year sentence. “Everyone was so upset, it was very emotional.”

The 21 convicted members of Boeremag - which means “Boer Power” in Afrikaans - were arrested in 2003 and held since then. Du Toit, 22, said she and her sister expected their father would get five years after already serving 11-and-a-half years in jail.

“Many people are angry. Especially the people who support this and who are concerned by the conditions in South Africa. You know, the farm murders and things like that,” du Toit said.

‘Oppression’?

About 400 white South Africans protested at a “Red October” rally against the killing of white farmers in Pretoria last month, and demanded the government end their “oppression.” Protest signs read: "Stop white genocide!" and "No farmer, no food, no future."

They urged that a separate Afrikaner state be created and policies that give preference to black South Africans be scrapped.

Dan Roodt is a right-wing Afrikaans writer and activist. He also cited “farm killings” as a reason to support the grievances of Africaners.

South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world with an average of 45 people killed each day, however, most of the victims are black.

Roodt said Afrikaners were the “new victims” of South Africa, and their situation had worsened over the past 10 years. Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch settlers, make up about seven percent of South Africa’s population, while 13 percent speak Afrikaans.

While many Afrikaners complain about their economic plight, white households earn six times that of black households.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Roodt distanced himself from the Boeremag of the early 2000s, calling them “lunatic freaks.” However, he said its convicted members have gained martyr status among the Afrikaner population after the trial dragged on for so long.

White South Africans protest murders of farmers and the "oppression" they say whites suffer [AFP]

“It got so much publicity and people, even if they reject the notion of violence, feel sympathy for them as having tried to regain some form of last Afrikaners political power,” Roodt said.

Doomsday?

One far-right organisation called the Suidlanders is preparing for what it believes will be Afrikaners' doomsday at the hands of the black majority. Over the last decade, the group has developed an evacuation plan for white South Africans for when the country slides into chaos.

“The worst case scenario would be a full-scale revolution with black-on-white genocide,” Gustav Müller, the leader Suidlanders, told Al Jazeera. “It gets worse every day. The ANC also has not even been able to uphold good governance, and there is no hope of turning the direction to a positive trend.”

The death of Mandela could be a potential to trigger for the uprising against whites, Müller said, but he added bigger threats include “national coordinated strikes, fuel shortage, electricity supply problem etc.”

The Suidlanders have secured farm land all over the country to use as a refuge and a place to defend themselves in such a scenerio, he said.

But a race war is one of the last things Frans Cronje from the Institute of Race Relations in Johannesburg considers realistic. Cronje said the white right has “faded into obscurity” over the past 20 years.

“The caricature of the bearded Boer War soldier in a camouflage uniform on a horse has changed, the right-wing today is no longer that. It is now more sophisticated, it might wear a suit. The right-wingers are more intellectual.”

But Cronje warned of a “lone wolf scenario” whereby a member of a white extremist group attacks blacks, sparking racial discord. “This is a very plausible scenario that could easily happen. In fact, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see anything like this in the next three years.”

The last such incident occurred in 2008 when a white teenager stormed into an informal black settlement and killed a baby, little boy and two adults.

It took a long time but if we look at those 10 years, there is no other extremist group that has come up. The state has managed to infiltrate those groups very well.

- Gareth Newham, Institute for Security Studies

“There have been incidents like this but they are very, very rare,” said Gareth Newham from the Institute for Security Studies.

Celebrity support

But he warned the presence of celebrities at the recent “Red October” demonstration was a disconcerting sign that could lead young people into the arms of extremists. Steve Hofmeyr, a well-known South African musician, attended the march.

“There is a flaw in the number of people - and high-profile people - who link crime in South Africa to race,” Newham said.

However, the Boeremag prison sentences handed down highlight the fact that there is no real threat from white supremacists any more, said Newham.

“It took a long time but if we look at those 10 years, there is no other extremist group that has come up. The state has managed to infiltrate those groups very well,” Newham said.

Lorraine du Toit, who has spent half her life with her father locked up, acknowledged that “actions have consequences.” But she said the situation for South Africa’s white community helps explain the Boeremag plot to kill Mandela and expel all people of colour.

“One has to see where those people come from. Many Afrikaners don’t see a future in this country,” du Toit said.

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Al Jazeera
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