Boers try to turn clock back at historic fort: 'Pretoria Commando' seizes monument on the day blacks share power for first time

PRETORIA - About 30 white right-wingers armed with rifles occupied the historic Fort Schanskop near Pretoria yesterday, and their leader said they would fight to defend it against a South African state in which whites no longer held exclusive power.

The 'Pretoria Boer Commando', led by a former army officer, Willem Ratte, dug in behind their symbolic laager on the same day as the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) held its inaugural meeting in Cape Town, giving blacks their first share in power. Mr Ratte said his men no longer recognised the state and wanted to show there was a viable alternative to what he called the 'Communist-led' TEC. 'Mandela is not one of our people . . . South Africa was handed a long time ago to the Azanian (African) juggernaut,' he said. But he added that he hoped a separate state for Afrikaners could be won by peaceful means 'without going to war'.

The army deployed about 150 black soldiers around the 19th-century granite and sandstone fort and said the right-wingers were being charged with trespass. Mr Ratte said his men would fight to defend the fort against the 'Azanian forces' massed around it. Azania is the name some black groups use for South Africa.

In Cape Town, Cyril Ramaphosa, chief democracy negotiator for the African National Congress, called on the government to act against the right-wingers at the fort. He told reporters he was extremely disturbed by the move.

'It may sound like a bit of a joke but we need to take it seriously . . . This is the first sign of them acting on the threat they issued that the installation of the TEC would be regarded as declaration of war,' the ANC secretary-general said. White right-wingers have threatened to go to war if their demands for a separate homeland are not met.

The fort, completed in 1897, stands on a hill near the massive stone Voortrekker monument, which commemorates the Great Trek of Boers from English occupation in the Cape to the Transvaal in the early 19th century.

White domination in Africa drained away yesterday where it all began 341 years ago, beneath the brooding buttresses of Table Mountain. The last bastion of white-minority rule in what 19th-century imperialists liked to call the Dark Continent crumbled at 10.24am when South Africa installed the TEC to oversee progress to an election next 27 April in which blacks will vote for the first time.

Although the white minority government of President F W de Klerk will remain in office for a further five months, it will be harnessed by blacks.

(Photograph omitted)