Eugene Terre'Blanche, in a black shirt and on a black horse, rides out of jail and into battle again

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The Independent Online

For some of those waiting outside the prison in Potchefstroom, he was South Africa's greatest political hero; a man who fought for the rights of his people. They stood patiently, peering at the jail, beaming with pride and complaining that their leader had been imprisoned for his beliefs.

For some of those waiting outside the prison in Potchefstroom, he was South Africa's greatest political hero; a man who fought for the rights of his people. They stood patiently, peering at the jail, beaming with pride and complaining that their leader had been imprisoned for his beliefs.

And then he was free again. Yet this was no liberation leader emerging: it was Eugene Terre'Blanche, the man whose idea for a modern South Africa could not be more at odds with the reality. He is a man jailed for the attempted murder of one of his black workers whom he caught eating on the job.

It had been predicted that hundreds of supporters would turn out to welcome him. They failed to materialise. Modern South Africa is a very different place to the land that Terre'Blanche had once envisaged. There is little appetite for his far-right views any more.

But a few zealots were on hand to greet Terre'Blanche, 60, on his release. Outnumbered by journalists, they turned up in the uniform of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), which was intended to strike terror into opponents' hearts during the 1980s and 1990s - brown shorts, leather straps and swastika-like flags.

But those who once posed as the inheritors of Adolf Hitler's ideological mantle yesterday appeared more like ageing boy scouts who had been lured to the "dark side".

However they were not disappointed by their leader as he rode to freedom astride a black horse. (He had also entered prison on a horse.) Mr Terre'Blanche had served three years of a five-year sentence in Potchefstroom, a conservative town in the Orange Free State that he had once thought would become a white homeland.

"Welcome into a black government," shouted one bystander as the AWB leader strutted past.

His party had tried desperately to wreck the negotiations that ended institutionalised racism in South Africa and ushered in Nelson Mandela as South Africa's first black president in 1994. Supporters even drove an armoured vehicle into the World Trade Centre, near Johannesburg International Airport, shattering the glass walls as the multi-party negotiations were taking place.

The majority black rule that the AWB so despised and detested is now firmly entrenched. The New National Party, the successor to the National Party which invented apartheid, is as good as dead. It faces what was once the unthinkable - being co-opted into the ruling black African National Congress (ANC).

Mr Terre'Blanche'sstriking blue eyes and white beard were present and correct, but something about him was different. His financial empire is gone, his farm, furniture and other assets having been auctioned to pay debts. He may be a free man, but he is penniless. And his beloved AWB is barely clinging to life.

But, while he looked frail on emerging from prison yesterday, he was still not holding his tongue.

"I was the only white man in a prison cell but God was there with me and he protected me," said Mr Terre'Blanche. He said that he intends to return to lead the AWB, despite all signs that it is moribund. He also said he would fight for the existence and safety of his language.

And while claiming that he was a "changed man", he could not apologise to Paul Motshabi, the worker beaten with a pipe and left an invalid in the March 1996 attack.

"You must have the first issue of my book. It will be in there," was all he could offer when pressed to say whether he was ready to offer an apology for his misdeeds.

"I'm glad I have paid the penalty for whatever I have done," he said at a later press conference, refusing again to offer an outright apology.

None the less, Mr Terre'Blanche was happy to accept the words of forgiveness from John Ndzima, a petrol attendant he brutally assaulted.

The AWB leader refused to commit himself to meeting the men and their families. He, in fact, seemed to refuse to recognise or acknowledge that he had committed the crime for which he was jailed.

Comparing himself to Moses and his supporters to the people of Israel, he said that he had been sent to jail by the state, which had relied on the evidence of a single man.

"Moses took his people from Egypt and into the desert. He did not try to take the Egyptians on because they were the only authority and his people were slaves. God sent him to take them to the desert, to free them," he said.

"I'm not here to declare war on anybody. I want to call my people to God ... the hour is here."

Now that the South African government has made an "example" of him by sending him to jail, Mr Terre'Blanche said that he expects it to do the same with South Africa's real murderers, rapists and robbers.

Of the 400 or so onlookers at Mr Terre'Blanche's release, many were black. Some of them said that they hoped to encourage Mr Terre'Blanche to accept the reality of the new government in South Africa.

They may be wasting their time. Mr Terre'Blanche has never come to terms with black rule. He still preaches the gospel of establishing an exclusive white Afrikaner homeland. But hardly anyone in South Africa is listening any more.

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