Volkstaat (Afrikaans for "People's state") is a proposal for the establishment of a homeland for Afrikaners. Outside a possible use of force, the South African Constitution and International Legislation present certain possibilities for the establishment of such a state. The South African regime declared that they would not support a Volkstaat, but "would do everything they could to ensure the protection of the Afrikaner language and culture". What a fine job they are doing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

AWB saved the day

An obstacle to an inclusive election in 1994 was the white right. This was a diverse group, consisting of a variety of Afrikaner political and cultural groups with a variety of views. Some, such as the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), were fascists opposed to any sort of change in the prevailing order. Another important group, the Afrikaner Volksfront , was a political organization that had been formed by Constand Viljoen and other former generals in May 1993 and sought merely the establishment of an Afrikaner homeland. The AWB and Volksfront maintained a tenuous alliance with Buthelezi’s IFP and leaders of several apartheidera African homelands. That alliance was only broken up following the “Battle of Bop” in early March 1994.

This “battle” was between Lucas Mangope, black leader of the Bophuthatswana homeland and opponent of the elections, the people of Bophuthswana who wanted to take part in the election, and the homeland’s civil servants who feared for their pensions. When the people rose up against Mangope, Viljoen decided to come to his aid. The AWB rushed in, too, and its participation turned the intervention into a fiasco. Racist and ill-disciplined, AWB men traveled throughout the homeland’s capital city shouting abuse and killing and wounding some of its residents before deciding to depart. The last vehicle of its convoy was fired on, the driver shot, and the passengers begged for medical help. Instead, in front of television cameras, they were shot by angry Bophuthatswana military men.

South Africans were horrified and any threatened military option disappeared. Thus, the AWB’s intervention, unwanted by either Mangope and Viljoen, might be considered fortuitous. Equally miraculous was the timing. The Battle of Bop culminated on March 11, 1994, the last day to register candidates for the election. Recognizing that the military option was gone, Viljoen immediately decided to register his party’s candidates, doing so only ten minutes before the deadline. As Anthony Sampson has written, “Ironically, it was the thugs of the AWB who saved the day, by discrediting the whole expedition and Mangope’s regime, along with the system that created it.”

Last-minute concessions were made to the white right but, as with the IFP, the government and ANC made repeated efforts to reach out to it and insure its participation in the elections. Negotiators had good reason to fear the white right, because radical Afrikaner nationalists had a history of resorting to arms to oppose government policy, e.g., Boer War and during World War II, and they had the potential support of a large part of the Afrikaner electorate. The March 1992 whites-only referendum, in which nearly 69 percent endorsed the negotiating process, undermined much of the right’s argument that the government was operating without popular approval. Still, the ANC sought to bring Viljoen, leader of the Afrikaner Volksfront, and others into the transition process. The general’s eventual decision to participate in the elections was “a decisive turning point,” because “not only did Viljoen’s decision take the sting out of the right-wing threat to disrupt the proceedings and launch an Afrikaner war of secession,” but he “instilled into his disbelieving right-wing supporters the acceptance that the era of Afrikaner and white rule had passed forever.”

Mandela dealt directly with Viljoen, beginning secret talks in August 1993. While the ANC had no interest in the establishment of an Afrikaner volkstaat, it continued to hold out the possibility. By December an agreement was reached pledging the two sides to non-racial democracy and to exploring the idea of Afrikaner self-determination. However, Viljoen continued to refuse to agree to participate in the elections due to continuing objections by his Freedom Alliance partners. This led some on the white right to consider achieving their goal by force of arms, a delusion that was destroyed in the Battle of Bop identified above. That failure led Viljoen to defy a majority of the Front and to agree to participate in the elections. Further concessions were then made to guarantee the participation of Viljoen’s group. His Freedom Front negotiated an accord in April 1994 with both the governing National Party and the ANC mandating the creation of a volkstaatraad after election. This body would investigate the possibility of a volkstaat in the new South Africa and report back to the governing authorities.



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