'Keef' of Croydon stokes SA race fires: English immigrant who heads AWB's 'Iron Guard' could be deported

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The Independent Online
FRIDAY 10am. A contingent of far-right Afrikaner separatists had seized Johannesburg's World Trade Centre, forcing some of South Africa's most prominent political leaders - the constitutional negotiators - to barricade themselves inside a government office.

Some 2,000 heavily armed men and women in paramilitary uniform stood outside the building, bellowing for blood and Boerestaat, the longed-for independent homeland. Another 400 were inside, having stormed in after an armoured car crashed through the main entrance.

At the breach stood a heavily bearded man in black. He had a gun in one hand and a walkie- talkie in the other. 'Charlie One to Charlie Two. Over. Charlie One to Charlie Two. Come in please. Over.' He was speaking English, in the circumstances a language that would have been only marginally less out of place among the Serbian troops besieging Sarajevo.

Still more curious, the man was speaking not South African but, unmistakably, south London English. Closer inspection - the black beard was much bushier than at its last public airing - revealed this was Keith Conroy from Croydon, right- hand man of the AWB's (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) Eugene Terre-Blanche and Kommandant of the anti-Jewish, anti-black, anti-Communist, neo-Nazi organisation's elite unit, the 'Iron Guard'.

Mr Conroy - 'Just call me Keef. All right?' - was in no mood to speak to reporters. Not only was he too busy trying to keep discipline among his men - some of whom were urinating on the carpet of the main negotiating chamber upstairs - he has not been particularly well disposed towards the press since an article appeared in the Independent on Sunday last year quoting him as saying that the Boers were too hesitant, too individualistic, too unwilling to fight together against the black Communist menace. He is also afraid, as he recently told a British television crew, that he might be deported.

His fear could soon come true. His photograph appeared in Johannesburg's Sunday papers among four others of right-wingers sought by the police in connection with Friday's events. Yesterday the South African police, under heavy pressure to make up for their omissions on Friday, said they had arrested at least 21 AWB supporters. But they refused to reveal the names until each had appeared in court - which is expected to happen within the next 48 hours.

The AWB issued a statement yesterday complaining, in a manner more commonly associated with the ANC, about the ill-treatment meted out to their members, some of whom the police had arrested in the most 'humiliating' ways. There had been several assaults, women 'officers' were being held in a police station in Soweto, parents had been taken away in the middle of the night with no provision made for the care of their children, the AWB said.

The man who has had most to complain about so far in connection with Friday's insurrection is not, however, an AWB member. He is not even white. Alfred Zwane was the only man arrested that day near the World Trade Centre. His crime was to have parked his car illegally.

A driver for the Johannesburg Star, he stopped alongside a highway - where dozens of cars belonging to the right-wing stormtroopers were also parked - to pick up a photographer's film. Mr Zwane, who refused to move when ordered to do so, was verbally abused by traffic officers, bundled into a police van, taken to a police station and kept in the van for three hours.

(Photograph omitted)