Boers reach for the gun in defiance: A knife attack on a farmer has fuelled Afrikaner anger, writes Karl Maier from Carletonville

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LUCAS MACHAGA was driving a tractor along a farm track two weeks ago when he spotted his boss, Gerhardus Visagie, lying in a pool of blood. 'I shouted small baas, small baas, but he did not move,' said Mr Machaga. 'So I unhooked the trailer and went to get help.'

Mr Visagie, 45, an Afrikaner farmer from near the western Transvaal town of Carletonville, 80 miles south-west of Johannesburg, had been stabbed 11 times. His assailants, believed to be two black men and a woman, sped off in his pick-up truck but later abandoned it outside the nearby black township, Khutsong. Mr Visagie was flown to a Johannesburg hospital where he remains in critical condition.

Mr Visagie joined a growing list of white farmers who have been killed and wounded since last month's murder of Chris Hani, an African National Congress leader regarded as an idol by radical youths in the black townships. Polish-born Janusz Walus and two prominent right- wing activists, Clive Derby- Lewis and his wife Gaye, have been charged with Hani's murder.

Attacks on whites, although a fraction of the number of assaults on blacks, have put Afrikaner farmers in a foul mood, swinging back and forth between a feeling of hopelessness and a mood of defiance. They see the future closing in on them, as President F W de Klerk's Nationalist Party government and Nelson Mandela's ANC and a host of smaller parties move towards a negotiated settlement to set up a transitional administration leading to South Africa's first multi-racial general elections next year.

Up to 8,000 farmers staged a rally at Potchefstroom last Thursday to demand the suspension of the multi-party negotiations. The following day four former army generals, including the former chief of staff, General Constant Viljoen, formed the Volksfront to press for Afrikaner 'self-determination', a euphemism for a separate Afrikaner state.

'For every one farmer that was there (at Potchefstroom), 10 wanted to go,' said Gerald de Kock, 42, Mr Visagie's neighbour who took the wounded man to hospital. 'We see negotiations as our certain downfall. That will lead to a one-man, one- vote election. It is inevitable that the blacks will win because they are far in the majority,' he said. 'Blacks can work here, but they cannot have the vote. This is Boer country.'

Perhaps because of the atrocities committed against blacks under the apartheid system, many Afrikaners like Mr de Kock are obsessed with the notion that blacks want to wipe them out. 'You can live with them for 10 years, and it will be OK. But then suddenly they come to kill you.' When reminded that it was a black man, Lucas Machaga, who saved Mr Visagie's life, he admitted, 'It's just a human response.'

Mr Visagie's wife, Anita, was more inclined to hopelessness and feared that her more militant neighbours could spark an anti-white backlash. 'Those people make me scared,' she said of the Afrikaner rally in Potchefstroom. Of an ANC victory at the polls, she said: 'If it happens we do not have much choice. We are a small group against thousands.'

Units of Eugene Terre Blanche's far-rightist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging's Wenkommando guard Mrs Visagie's farm.

Nearly all the whites living in rural areas of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, the former Afrikaner republics, are armed at all times. When Mr de Kock's wife left the house the other day she carried a brightly coloured basket with a pistol hidden inside. 'An unarmed white man in Africa is a dead white man,' said Mr de Kock.

For years the Afrikaners, who make up a majority of the 6 million whites, portrayed apartheid and its draconian security apparatus as necessary to defeat the 'Communist onslaught'. These days ideological differences take a back seat to outright racism.

For Mr de Kock, the choice for Afrikaner farmers is clear. 'There is no way we will stay under the ANC. We will either leave or we will fight.' An army reservist, he admitted that should the Afrikaner extremists put up armed resistance to an ANC government, they may end up fighting their Afrikaner brothers in South Africa's largely white army. 'The army is split between right and left. If there's a plot of any kind, it will surface,' he said. 'That is what is making it so difficult.'