Destiny imposes its own apartheid on twin brothers of the white tribe: They are alike in every way except how they see the Afrikaners' future: one is a messiah of the right, the other backs the ANC. Karl Maier finds out why

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THEIR cold blue eyes, white hair and soft-spoken accents are the same. Both men burn with a shared passion about the crisis facing the Afrikaner people of South Africa. Both are pessimistic about the future of their country.

As South Africa struggles towards a negotiated political settlement amid worsening racial violence, retired general Constand Viljoen (60) and his identical twin Braam are worried that unrest in the black townships threatens to spin out of control. Both agree that the Afrikaners are being left out in the political wilderness, and that the Communist Party is gaining strength.

There the similarities end. Constand, a former chief of staff of the South African Defence Force, is the leader of the newly formed far-right Afrikaner movement, the Volksfront. Braam is a deeply religious peace activist and ANC supporter.

Constand sees a Communist conspiracy threatening to engulf South Africa and his Afrikaner people. He enjoys great respect among right-wing Afrikaners, not least because of his involvement in the military campaigns against 'communism' in Angola, Namibia and, surreptitiously, in Mozambique, and because he never sided with any of the Afrikaner factions. Many right-wingers see him as a messiah, the one man who can unite them and defy history.

Now Constand has been drafted from his farm in the Eastern Transvaal to lead the Volk in their struggle for a separate state, the Volkstaat, before Nelson Mandela's African National Congress gains power through elections. Although Constand says the Volksfront wants to negotiate, not fight, many of his supporters see him as the potential leader of an Afrikaner military campaign, in the mould of the Boer generals who fought the British.

Braam, a student of theology, farmer and failed aspirant MP, is the chairman of the Northern Transvaal Peace Committee, part of a national network that seeks to check political violence. He has embraced the ANC and says he will soon become a member.

Braam was in the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa) delegation that defied the P W Botha government in July 1987, by meeting ANC officials in Dakar, Senegal. 'It was quite a rocking experience to meet people of the quality of Thabo Mbeki and Pallo Jordan,' he said. 'It made me far more decided that with the time I have left, I had to do something constructive.'

The twins' shared belief that the Communist Party has a chance to win power is, not surprisingly, for differing reasons. Constand regards its strength as a result of the government's decision to allow ANC guerrillas to return to South Africa. 'They have sacrified many black people to brainwashing by allowing the terrorists back into the country,' he said.

Braam sees the party's strength as a result of unbridled capitalism, deprivation and the Communists' championing of black rights. 'Some of the Communist Party leaders are the most able thinkers,' he said. 'To the black man, the Communist Party is the one party which stood by them. To them, communism is liberation.'

The Viljoen brothers grew up near the town of Standerton in the Eastern Transvaal to liberal parents, Andries and Geersie, who supported Jan Smuts' South Africa Party. 'My father taught me a very simple thing: think for yourself,' said Braam. Andries died in 1947 when the brothers were 14. Their mother always supported Braam's liberal positions.

Constand says he learned his more conservative politics in high school. He entered the SADF in 1951, and it was there that he obtained what he describes as 'a thorough knowledge of communism'. By the age of 42 he had become commander of the army. In 1980, he replaced General Magnus Malan as chief of staff of the SADF at a time when South African troops were deeply involved in the Mozambican and Angolan civil wars and were battling Swapo guerrillas fighting for Namibia's independence.

'Being soldiers, we studied these revolutionary movements. I learned how the USSR directed its idea of expansion. We got involved in Angola and Mozambique to resist the expansion of communism to South Africa.'

Braam took a near-opposite road. He travelled through the United States and completed his theological studies in 1962. Then he went to the Netherlands, where he met his mentor, J C Hoegendijk, an academic who as a Christian student leader had been involved in the resistance to Nazi occupation. Mr Hoegendijk told his students of a time when the underground was hiding Jewish children. When food became scarce, the Germans introduced a system of coupons. The problem was how to feed the children. The underground decided that the most beautiful woman would sleep with the German officers, kill them and steal the coupons. 'That introduced to me a theological position that I could be in the Dutch Reformed Church.

'Essentially, we (the Afrikaners) have a theological error. It's our concept of God, the way we use the Bible. It's an unholy unity of religion and nationalism. It's a heresy,' he said. Following in the footsteps of the anti-apartheid DRC minister Beyers Naude, Braam broke with the church. In the 1960s he worked on theological commissions which described apartheid as 'pseudo-Gospel', earning him the wrath of the Afrikaner establishment.

Constand had become a bit of a heretic in his own right, by arguing for 'the importance of accommodating black political aspirations so that we could succeed in keeping out communism'.

In an ironic twist of history, Constand probably contributed to his brother's radicalisation. As director of army operations in 1974, the then Brigadier Viljoen suggested the consolidation of the black 'homelands' set up under the apartheid system, arguing that their physical fragmentation was a threat to South Africa's security. Braam's farm was on the border with the Kwandebele bantustan, and when the security forces began forced removals to consolidate the homeland, his house became a meeting-point for the Ndebele underground. The police, he said, used 'very, very ugly methods', and Braam took journalists to see the operations. He was interrogated and at one point was a wanted man.

Today, the Viljoen brothers remain close and share a fear for the future. Braam worries about the growing impatience among blacks for economic and political change, and about a white backlash against attacks on white farmers. Like many whites, he was frightened by the explosion of black unrest after last month's assassination of the Communist Party leader Chris Hani. 'Even the most liberal people I know say this cannot happen,' he said. 'We need change, but we need control.'

Constand blames politicians for the growth of radicalism in the townships. 'Had the politicians of the period taken timely action, the black people would not have been in contact with Moscow. The pity is the inactivity of the Afrikaners in the political field,' he said. 'There were many indications that things were going wrong, but they did nothing.'

The Afrikaners, Braam believes, face 'an existential crisis of the first degree. In a way we have to pay for the price of decades of indoctrination. It was a system in which it was better not to think for yourself. We were brought up into a system that had no cracks, and now it's falling apart.'

(Photographs omitted)