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How the volk myth died: It took just a few minutes to change the course of South African history. John Carlin reports from Mafikeng

FOR seven years Eugene Terreblanche had been promising 'holy war' against 'the godless communists' of the African National Congress.

The time had finally come.

Shortly after midnight on Thursday, Fanie Uys, a panel- beater from the Northern Transvaal town of Naboomspruit, and his neighbour Alwyn Wolfaardt, a tractor repairman, both commandos of Terreblanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), received a long-awaited call. They were to proceed to Mmabatho, capital of Bophuthatswana, and join forces with the massed ranks of the warrior white volk.

With their friend Nick Fourie, an AWB general, they drove through the night in an old Mercedes into Mmabatho. There they joined some 4,000 Boers who, by firing into the air and the crowds milling about the downtown shopping centre, restored what at first passed for a semblance of order. Mmabatho's black population had never felt more terrified.

At noon the Bophuthatswana police and army, decided, in the words of one soldier, 'to clean out the AWB'. The Mercedes and the pick-up trucks had no answer to the green armoured vehicles. Soldiers and policemen drove the right-wingers out of town like frightened sheep. Most fled to the airforce base, four miles out. A good number decided the time had come to go home.

Among them were Uys, Wolfaardt and Fourie. They sped in a convoy through a poor black area of Mafikeng, firing at passers-by . . . until they drove past the police headquarters.

The police, oppressors of the black population turned friends, had set an ambush. They opened fire on the AWB vehicles and a furious gun battle ensued, lasting some three minutes. Most of the AWB men got away. The men from Naboomspruit did not. Uys and Wolfaardt were wounded and Fourie died almost instantly. The Mercedes spun off the road.

What happened in the next minutes changed forever the archetypal image of racial violence in South Africa.

Uys, a balding man with a moustache, in his early thirties, dragged himself out of the car and rested against one of the rear tyres. Wolfaardt, an older man with a thick black beard, crawled past the body of his dead friend, Fourie, and gave up two yards farther on. He lay face down, bleeding.

Half a dozen reporters who had stumbled on to the scene recorded what followed.

A crowd of locals mingling with the policemen started taunting the two survivors. 'Who asked you to come here?' 'Are you sorry now?'

'Black bastards,' muttered Uys, before realising the folly of his words and pleading, 'Sorry, sorry, sorry.'

The police frisked Wolfaardt as he lay face down on the sandy roadside gravel. 'Fuck it]' he growled. 'Someone just get a fucking ambulance]'

Then he too changed his tune. 'Please God, help us] Get us some medical help]' he said. A brief, bizzare exchange followed between reporters and Uys. 'What's your name?' one asked. 'Fanie Uys.' 'How come you're here?' 'We were sent by the boss,' replied Wolfaardt.

Without warning, and to the horror of the assembled reporters, a policeman strolled up to the two men, pointed his automatic rifle, and fired two bullets into each at point-blank range, firing a further two for good measure into the body of Fourie, which he then proceeded to kick in the ribs.

The policeman had just seen two blacks killed by other AWB men, according to a photographer who witnessed the scene. Uys, Wolfaardt and Fourie, their forebears and their forebears' forebears, the volk, had one way or another been doing just that to blacks for 300 years. The extraordinary thing was that the collective act of revenge should have been captured for generations to come by the world's media. Those were not the thoughts of Wolfaardt's children who only learned of their father's death when they saw it on television.

(Photograph omitted)