Spirit of the volk descends to bluster: 'Adapt or die,' leaders warn

THE long-bearded Boer hero Paul Kruger, immortalised in stone on a horse, looked down yesterday from his perch in Pretoria's Church Square on the warrior farmers, retired generals and paramilitary brownshirts of the Afrikaner Volksfront, out in force to remember the days when Africa's destiny was white man's business.

For the present is too baffling to contemplate. What would 'Oom Paul' (Uncle Paul) have made of the news that a South African 'native' had received the most coveted prize in world politics? And, worse, that the Afrikaner who inherited Kruger's mantle did not blush to share the honour?

As for the decision of an Afrikaner judge to hang two whites because they had shot dead an unusually turbulent native, one who had led an armed rebellion against white rule, words would have failed the venerable president of the Transvaal republic, circa 1882.

War, of course, would have been Kruger's response, as it was twice against the British. And war - 'the third Boer freedom war', Eugene Terreblanche of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) calls it - was what the burgers of the Volksfront clamoured for in Pretoria yesterday.

The Volksfront emerged in May this year after a handful of retired police and army generals decided the time had come to unite South Africa's far right under one banner. Today General Constand Viljoen, former chief of the South African Defence Force, sits beside Ferdi Hartzenberg, leader of the parliamentary Conservative Party, astride 40 or so political groups which believe that if the Afrikaner does not get a separate homeland, a volkstaat, he will be destined to live under communist tyranny.

That very image drove Janusz Walus and Clive Derby- Lewis to assassinate Chris Hani, the leading communist in the African National Congress. Will their 'martyrdom' lead the volk to take up arms against Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk, to resist their plans for democratic elections next April, the certain outcome of which will be that Mr Mandela emerges as the first black ruler of South Africa?

When you put that question to the average right-wing farmer, he replies in the affirmative. He may tell you that he and his comrades have been stockpiling weapons and food. He may point to the traditional affinity between his 'nation' and 'the Zulu nation', formally cemented last week when Inkatha and the Volksfront formed the new 'Freedom Alliance'.

The alliance may lack a common vision, but it is bound by having a common enemy, the ANC. The messagefrom Chief Buthelezi and Mr Hartzenberg is the same: provide us with constitutional guarantees that render us immune to the democratic will of the majority, and we will not start a civil war. As the white right understands it, in the freedom war Inkatha will provide the cannon fodder and the Volksfront the direction.

The war talk is probably all bluster. The South African Defence Force would in all likelihood defend the new political order. The indications are that, in reality, only a lunatic handful of Afrikaners would have the stomach for a fight.

A full-blown civil war is far more likely to come, if at all, from the black majority, who are accustomed to enduring pain and privation in a manner that white South Africans certainly are not. And that would happen only in the most extreme of circumstances - if Mr Mandela were to be assassinated, for example.

The leitmotif of Afrikaner political philosophy during the 45 apartheid years has been survival. How to survive in Africa as European settlers with a common language, culture and religion has been the consuming question underpinning every big political decision. And if Afrikaners are quintessential survivors, it means that they are also quintessential pragmatists. When the choice comes between adapting to circumstances or fighting to the bitter end, it is not the Alamo option that will prevail.

President de Klerk, whose thinking five years ago was in line with the Volksfront's today, did not win the Nobel Prize because he had undergone some Pauline conversion. The reforms he set in motion came in response to the belief, articulated by his predecessor P W Botha, that Afrikaners had to 'adapt or die'. For evidence that the Afrikaner establishment has followed Mr de Klerk's lead, one need look no further than the Hani trial.

There is no reason to believe that the political thinking of the judge, Frik Eloff, or state prosecutor Klaus von Lieres, was any more enlightened than Mr de Klerk's a few years back. But Mr von Lieres's 50 witnesses were almost all Afrikaners, including a housewife whose eyewitness testimony proved decisive.

One police officer, massive in the classic Afrikaner mould, spoke outside the court of his impressions of Walus during interrogation: 'He could not believe we were serious. He thought we were playing games. That he would be all right, we'd set him free. His idea was that he had killed a communist, the enemy, and he must be a hero to us. It was pathetic. He had no idea how times had changed.'

Nor have the right-wingers gathered yesterday in Church Square: they took Gaye Derby- Lewis, the wife of one of Hani's murderers, acquitted in court, to their hearts at the rally. In their minds, they are still riding with Paul Kruger. What they forget is that when Kruger saw that the game was up during the war against the British, he did what every good survivor does, and left the country. What many may not know is that Judge Eloff, who has adapted to the times more nobly, is Kruger's great-grandson.

(Photograph omitted)