Apartheid whites shelter under black right wing: Brendan Willmer, once deported from SA for racism, now backs Inkatha. John Carlin spoke to him in Durban

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The Independent Online
RACISM is no longer fashionable in South Africa, even among racists, some of whom are scurrying to the black right for shelter from the African National Congress.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, once perceived merely as 'a good kaffir', is now the great black hope of born-again right-wing whites. The new orthodoxy of the old apartheid campaigners, who are flocking to join forces with Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, is now anti-Communist self-determination.

A number of foreign residents originally attracted to South Africa for political reasons are among those who have discovered a satisfying new identity within the new black-white partnership.

Take Brendan Willmer, a prosperous landscaper who lives in a large house overlooking Durban harbour. Born in Britain 48 years ago, he was a National Front zealot in his youth. In 1969 he found a natural home in South Africa where he acquired political prominence first in the Save Rhodesia Campaign and then - not a man blessed with a winning streak - in the no-less right-wing Save South Africa Society, South Africa First, Civic Action League and Conservative Party, which is today formally bound to Inkatha within the new Freedom Alliance.

For a brief period in the early Eighties he became a local media celebrity. Described by Durban newspapers, even in those days, as an 'ultra-rightist', he battled to keep the city beaches white. So excessive were his racist outbursts that in 1984 the government threw him out of the country, a decision applauded at the time by Chief Buthelezi, who said South Africa 'would be much better without the Willmers of this world'.

Back in South Africa since 1989, the white-haired Mr Willmer is making the headlines again as chairman of yet another right-wing group, the Natal Freedom Campaign. In recent speeches he has alleged that the government is riddled with Communist agents and that the ANC is plotting to assassinate Inkatha leaders - this last information he faxed to 5,500 businesses and 1,000 individuals.

'Moderation in the defence of liberty is a vice, extremism in the defence of liberty is a virtue,' he explained over tea in his lounge, quoting, he said, from Barry Goldwater.

What was the problem? 'Well, in the campaign we're all convinced anti-socialists and we don't think the press is doing its duty in exposing the underlying political motivation of the ANC.' Namely? 'Well, look at Thabo Mbeki, what he wants is to create a socialist state straight out of Stalinist Russia.'

Such was the ferocity of Mr Willmer's conviction that it did not seem worth noting that Mr Mbeki, the national chairman and international secretary of the ANC, is viewed far and wide as the incarnation of social democrat moderation.

But what about Nelson Mandela and his efforts in Britain and America in recent weeks to lure foreign capitalism to South Africa? 'Even if it's true what he says, the cabinet under him will be hard left-wingers.' Apart from Mr Mbeki, who? 'Come on, who isn't?' Nor could the army stop Communism - 'The ANC can change the whole complexion of the army overnight.'

So what was the answer? 'A federal system, along US lines. With an ANC government, which I admit is a strong possibility, we need maximum devolution of powers.'

In other words, the Inkatha option - which is based on the notion that Chief Buthelezi will win an election in Natal. But didn't he once have a problem with blacks?

'I go puce when people mention that. Yes, I was in the National Front as a teenager. Yes, I was vehemently in favour of apartheid. But people change. I have an awful lot more in common now with my Zulu neighbour who shares my political philosophy than with a white opponent.'