'RACE traitor]' 'Why don't you go and jump off a bridge?' 'Are you on drugs or something?' Petra Burrill rather regretted her decision to participate in a phone-in radio programme recently, such was the abuse heaped on her by white callers.
'I was shocked. I expected calls like that from the far right but the people who called in were ordinary people, you know, the man and woman next door,' said Mrs Burrill, whose claim to notoriety is that she has transferred her allegiance from Eugene Terre- Blanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) to Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.
Mrs Burrill joined the neo-Nazi AWB in 1987. A loyal placard-bearer ('ANC = Anti-Christ' was one of her favourites), she would attend lectures by David Irving and other like- minded visitors; she would hold political meetings at her home, counting among her guests the couple charged with Chris Hani's assassination, Clive and Gaye Derby-Lewis; she was invited to take part in a training programme which included, among other things, learning how to make bombs. 'The message was 'We've got to stand together to stop the swart gevaar (black danger) and rooi gevaar (red danger)'. It was all based on hate and ignorance and fear.'
Why did she join the AWB? 'All of my school-kid indoctrination - I went to an Afrikaans primary school - all came to the surface after the ANC planted a big bomb in Pretoria in 1983. The bomb galvanised all my fears. And then I started going to hear Terre-Blanche speak. He's mesmerising. He grips you. He speaks and he gives birth to dangerous people, people whose mentality includes boasting that they buggered up a black man on a street in the middle of the night.'
In January this year she joined the ANC. Why? 'It was a gradual process. I would sometimes come home from AWB meetings and ask myself whether some of this stuff wasn't perhaps a bit too crazy. Then one day my husband's job in aircraft maintenance at the airport got a bit shaky . . . he got no help from the official union, he went off to see Cosatu (the pro-ANC Congress of South African Trade Unions). He found that they were helpful and efficient. That they were human beings. It made us think.'
In 1990 she started easing away from the AWB and began reading books on ANC history and Nelson Mandela. 'When de Klerk and Mandela came on the TV we started listening. Before, we just turned the TV off. We'd been brainwashed. Now we were being people again. Thinking for ourselves.'
Since becoming a fully paid-up member of the ANC she has received many threatening letters and phone calls. 'But I feel great. I feel great being part of the majority. I feel great because I'm free now, because I see people, not 'blacks'. I'm liberated from that dreadful burden of racial hatred. And I am absolutely amazed at all the love we've found, at the complete absence of hatred. A few weeks back we were at an ANC rally with Walter Sisulu . . . and when we were introduced to the crowd from the podium as ex-AWB members they went crazy with joy. They gave us a bigger cheer than they gave old Walter.
'Now I've come full circle. I see why the Pretoria bomb had to go off. If I'd faced what these people have had to face I'd have been the most radical person in the world. If I'd had the consciousness then that I have now I'd have gone to prison for sure.'
THE BLACK MAN'S STORY
If you had told David Chuenyane in 1960, when he was 18, that at 50 he would be a high-flying member of the National Party (NP), advising the white president of the day, he would have said you were insane.
That was the year he joined the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), which is still the radical wing of the black liberation movement, whose military arm, the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), relishes claiming responsibility each time a white person falls victim to a racist murder. Apla, its members explain, is the black response to the Afrikaner Resistance Movement.
Mr Chuenyane went into exile in 1964 and joined the PAC army in Tanzania, where he trained under Chinese instructors for five years. 'Then the PAC started falling apart because we proved incapable of getting back into the country,' he said. He went to Canada, obtained a degree and taught in a school for two and a half years. Then he went to the United States, did a BSc and a Masters and got a job as an electrical engineer. He came home in July last year and a month later joined the NP.
Why did he leave the PAC? 'I stayed in touch with them during my absence but, hey, I turned capitalist. Besides, they're fragmented and they have no resources. They're a shambles.' Well, why not join the ANC? 'In the ANC it's who you are, it's where you've been that determines whether you get into a leadership position. I didn't see any hope of a leadership position there, even of contributing to policy. Plus, politically there are still Communists there. They try to camouflage it but they're there.'
Mr Chuenyane has managed to preserve the affability he absorbed in America despite the inevitable bombardment of death-threats he has endured during the past year. It is a price he is willing to pay to add his contribution to the making of a more tolerant society.
'I came to the NP and I said: 'Hey, let me remove apartheid from my own mind. Let me liberate myself.' Suddenly I was free to talk to these people. In August last year I met Roelf Meyer (Constitutional Development Minister), Pik Botha (Foreign Minister) and the State President, all of them together. I told them: 'I don't want to be a token black face in the NP, I want to be in the decision-making structures.' And they agreed. Their problem, you see, is getting black people into the NP. I told them I would take up the task and start in Soweto.'
So why the NP? 'It was the pragmatic choice. They have an infrastructure in place. They have financial resources, which you need to uplift my people. I came back from DC, you know, and I saw the highways - I'd been away 27 years - and I thought 'This is incredible'.
'But also, the NP, I knew they needed me. The State President will call me sometimes and say: 'Dave, can I bounce something off you?' Now I'm running not only Soweto, but I'm in the national management committee of the party, strategising for the election next year.'
He accepts the ANC will be the majority in an elected government. 'Only by a miracle will we win. Our plan is to be a very strong opposition so that, building on the ANC's mistakes, we can win the next election.' And then? 'My ambition is to be in the cabinet, just like everyone else.'
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