The journalist, the neo-Nazi and the bedroom farce: Jani Allan, who yesterday lost a libel case, has paid a high price for her links with Eugene Terre-Blanche. Stephen Ward reports
The effect on Jani Allan was as though a female Daily Telegraph journalist in England were seen having an affair with Arthur Scargill at the height of the miners' strike. For Eugene Terre- Blanche's image as an upholder of the traditions and values of his nation, it was as though David Mellor had been found with Antonia de Sancha not in her flat, but on the steps of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Ms Allan lost her column, although she had denied the affair, and Mr Terre-Blanche had to purge opponents in his Afrikaaner Resistance Movement (AWB) to keep control of a much discredited force.
In court Ms Allan was being disingenuous when she described herself as a 'lesser media figure in a country where there is a dearth of celebrities'. She had become a bigger story than most of what she wrote about, to the extent that when her newspaper, the Sunday Times in Johannesburg, commissioned a Gallup poll in 1987 to find 'the most admired person in South Africa', she came first.
She had come to such success late, and at considerable emotional and social cost. She was adopted, which friends say made her insecure, a child prodigy as a classical musician. Her mother, Janet Fry, said: 'She used to read books like Chaucer when she was very young, and only somebody very clever can do that.' She told the Citizen newspaper in South Africa that she and her daughter had been 'the closest of friends' all her life, and were in constant contact. She graduated in fine art and was a teacher and part-time model before becoming a journalist. The then editor of the Sunday Times, Tertius Myberg, hired her on the strength of four music reviews, and became a father figure.
She married Gordon Schachat, a rich businessman, in 1982, but they were divorced in 1984. She told the court the reason: 'I was obsessed with my column. I was intent on becoming the best journalist in the country.'
According to her former flatmate Linda Shaw, she always judged new men she had met according to whether they were rich or powerful, and would be good potential husbands for her.
One question left unanswered by two weeks' of intimate detail from so many witnesses is whether Ms Allan and Mr Terre-Blanche were gripped by a seething passion which overwhelmed the ideological divide, or whether his white Boer supremacist creed tapped her latent political instincts. She said she disliked his politics and his person, but thought he was a good contact for a journalist. Mr Schachat (who is Jewish and still friends with her) said she had normal middle-class South African views. According to her former flatmate, Linda Shaw, these included urging Mr Terre- Blanche to wear khaki, saying: 'If you wear a suit you can't look better than a Jew from Rosebank' (a Jewish suburb of Johannesburg).
Ms Shaw, admittedly a defence witness for Channel 4, said Ms Allan had not wanted a black government, and called the blacks 'kaffirs'. Ms Allan wrote from her Surrey home to the Daily Telegraph in February 1992 and described the ANC as like 'black gangsters impatient to get their hands on the loot'. She said whites paid 83 per cent of the taxes in South Africa. 'It is ironic that even as Scotland's devolution is being debated, the West's dictatorial integrationists refuse to sanction the white tribe's right to self-determination.' In a column published in October 1990 in a South African magazine Scope, she wrote: 'Forty five per cent of the black population of SA is under the age of 15, uneducated and, by the year 2000, it is predicted, will be carrying the HIV virus (as well as a panga).' A panga is a long curved African knife.
She also wrote in that article: 'There is no such thing, nor has there ever been, a 'black majority' in South Africa. There are nine black peoples, split into 757 tribes, as different in language, culture and mentality as the Swiss are from the Greeks. The difference between these black peoples are accentuated by ancient tribal enmities which in the past - and now - lead to bloody wars and extermination of entire tribes.' She described Nelson Mandela as 'the Chocolate Redeemer'.
In the trial Mr Terre-Blanche came across as a buffoon, a pair of heaving, large, white buttocks glimpsed through a keyhole, slumped comatose in a pair of green underpants with holes in, and leaving scores of drunken messages of devotion on her telephone answering machine. In fact, in 1989 the AWB was something sinister - before rumours of the affair and the referendum approving negotiations between the ANC and the Government cut away its power. Its emblems include red, black and white flags with three-legged insignia resembling swastikas, and supporters wear brown shirts. Its creed is white-separatist. Its goal is the establishment of a white Boer nation with strict ethics in the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal provinces. In his speeches Mr Terre-Blanche uses this as a stick to attack Jewish capitalists, the ANC and the Government. His charismatic style of addressing meetings, begun by telling Afrikaaners they were God's chosen people, has riveted thousands as well as Ms Allan who wrote of being 'transfixed on the flame of his blowtorch eyes'.
Mr Terre-Blanche has a criminal record. He was convicted in 1983 of illegal possession of arms, and sentenced to two years in prison suspended for five years. The same year he was found guilty of malicious damage for his involvement in the tarring and feathering of a professor who suggested the Day of the Vow, the Afrikaaners' sacred holiday, should not be treated as the sabbath. In May 1989 he was cleared of causing damage to the gates of the Paardekraal monument on the night he had driven there with Ms Allan. But the publicity after the incident had subjected him to a still more damaging effect - public ridicule. He was a married man with a daughter, and to be caught in such an embarrassing position was humiliating. Worse was to come for him when tape recordings from Ms Allan's answering machine of him pleading with her to speak to him, were published in her newspaper. 'Oh call me back darlinkie, please, please. You know where I am, I'm at the head office, Ciao,' was one example.
Rumours of his drinking, even at meetings, gradually began to gain credence. But three years later he obviously believed he had weathered the storm. As the libel trial opened, South African journalists tracked down Mr Terre- Blanche on a hunting trip to Namibia. He dismissed the case as 'filth'. 'I am busy preparing my people for war,' he said, 'and I don't want to be dragged into nonsense like this.'
A week of South African papers full of alleged bottoms, drunken fumblings and underpants later, his affidavit arrived in court, denying he had had an affair, and denying he had hinted at marriage.
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