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.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How the AWB sank the Volkstaat

The volkstaat was within tantalising reach in 1994, but it got scuppered by an unruly AWB mob who wanted to do things in their own way.

On 7 May 1993, for example, fifteen thousand right-wingers gathered at a rugby stadium in Potchefstroom to vent their anger at the NP government. Tensions ran high as General Constand Viljoen emerged as the newly found leader who could save the Afrikaner volk from the unholy alliance which had been forged between De Klerk and Mandela. The Afrikaner Volksfront was established, and included a directorate of four retired generals, headed by Viljoen, and tasked with the establishment of a ‘Boer People’s Army’, drawn from farmers, miners, the Citizen Force and commando’s, among others.

Yet, while organising and mobilising on the one hand, Viljoen served as a moderating force among the right-wing on the other. Ever the conciliator, Viljoen and some of his co-leaders engaged in exploratory meetings with the ANC in the final months of 1993. The demand of the right-wingers was for a volkstaat with Pretoria as capital — something that the ANC did not reject out of hand, but used as a ploy to string the Volksfront along as the date for the crucial April elections came closer. There was a mounting feeling in the country that the elections would be the decisive moment. Should the elections be concluded relatively peacefully, it would legitimise both the ANC and the settlement process while emasculating the much smaller, if increasingly vociferous, militant opposition groups — including the Afrikaner Volksfront and the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging.

Realistically, the demand for a volkstaat was one which the ANC could not countenance, although it did eventually agree to the establishment of a Volkstaat Council and the possibility of using the general elections as a means to test support for a proposed volkstaat. Any autonomy granted to the Afrikaner would open the door for Buthelezi and Kwa-Zulu to claim the same. An intensive and bitter campaign of accusation and counter-accusation developed between the Volksfront (particularly the Conservative Party) and the NP — each claiming to represent the Afrikaner. Having steadily been forced back from one negotiating position to the next, the NP, appeared indecisive and weak by 1993. NP negotiators had repeatedly been demoralised and outwitted by a rampant ANC. Frustrated by the delays as the days slipped by, Afrikaner right-wing pressure for armed action to halt the perceived slide to ANC/Communist Party dominance increased.

Events in Bophuthatswana would shortly provide such an opportunity.

Early in March 1994, President Lucas Mangope announced that he would not participate in the April elections and that Bophuthatswana would stick to the independence granted to it by South Africa in 1977. This was a direct challenge to the government and to the Transitional Executive Council (TEC). It threw down the gauntlet to the whole negotiation process. In terms of the agreement negotiated between the ANC and the NP, all black people in the homelands had their South African citizenship restored on 1 January 1994.

Mangope and his advisors had not attended this process where it was decided that the homelands themselves were due to be absorbed into the country’s nine new provinces on election day, 27 April 1994. According to Mangope, the South African government had granted his country independence and therefore had no jurisdiction over Bophuthatswana. He was clearly out of step with what was happening in the rest of the country. He was equally unaware of the lack of popular support for his government and party within his own territory. For the ANC, this was an untenable situation. Mangope had to go before the elections. Their response was rapid and took the form of mobilisation and mass action.

For COSAG and the Afrikaner right-wing, it was an equally crucial moment. Mangope had a defined territory with a formal legal status which he could claim — something the Volksfront could only dream of. Together, they could provide the solid basis for the creation of a viable alternative to the ANC.

Within days after his announcement that his ‘country’ would not participate in the April elections, a strike by Bophuthatswana’s twenty-two thousand civil servants effectively paralysed the territory. Since the country would ostensibly disappear on 27 April, civil servants demanded that their wages and pensions be paid out before the elections.

Members of the Bophuthatswana police started joining the strike. Violence and looting intensified. By Wednesday 9 March 1994, Mmabatho, the capital, was in chaos — hospitals were closed and staff had seized control of the Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation and taken Eddie Mangope, its chairman and the son of Lucas Mangope, hostage. Students had taken over the university and civil servants had extended their demands to include participation in the elections, as well as Mangope’s deportation. At this point, Mangope appealed to the Volksfront for help. Eugene Terre’Blance was the first to respond by broadcasting a call for all members of the AWB commando units to head for Bophuthatswana.

In the meanwhile, Viljoen mobilised his Boerekrisis-Aksie to move into Mmabatho and establish themselves at the town’s airport. They were to go in unarmed and would be issued with arms from the armoury of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force upon arrival. Judging by the speed of the mobilisation and the accompanying discipline, it was clear that the Volksfront had been preparing for just such an eventuality. Within a day, Boerekrisis-Aksie operational commander, Douw Steyn, had one thousand five hundred men moving to the airport and another three thousand on standby. In Mmabatho, the renowned retired SADF special forces commander, Col Jan Breytenbach, was to assume command of the Volksfront force.

Despite the best efforts by Viljoen and others, cars full of AWB men had arrived in the meantime in Mmabatho — some six hundred in total. In contrast to the Volksfront forces the AWB men had no clear command structure apart from an appeal to ‘go and help’. The worst nightmare for the embattled Mangope had become a reality. His black government and those members of the Bophuthatswana security forces still loyal to him were in apparent collusion with a motley group of white racists who were driving through Mmabatho yelling insults at blacks and shooting at random. It was an untenable situation, effectively undermining any chance of consolidating the anti-ANC alliance.

Those black troops still loyal to Mangope mutinied in reaction to the provocation of the AWB, and sided with the rioters. There was no question now of the Volksfront army getting weapons from the Bophuthatswana armoury. "… Steyn … ordered his army to withdraw. Leaving his one hundred and fifty armed men to hold the airport until they could hand it over to the South African Defence Force, Steyn and his Volksfront volunteers went out the way they had come, with a few rearguard skirmishes on the way."7 Not so the AWB, whose members were causing a fair degree of mayhem. In the skirmishes that followed, two AWB members were wounded and subsequently executed in full view of the international media as they lay next to their vehicle. More than any other single event, this public execution undercut the AWB myth of racial supremacy.

By this time, Georg Meiring had ordered the SADF to enter Bophuthatswana and had forces deployed around the South African embassy in Mmabatho, awaiting instructions from the Union Buildings.

Eventually, a delegation led by Foreign Affairs Minister Pik Botha conveyed the news of his imminent dethronement to Mangope and the SADF moved in to begin restoring order. South African Ambassador to Bophuthatswana, Tjaart van der Walt, was installed as administrator of Bophutatswana, to be joined soon thereafter by ANC co-administrator Job Mogoro.

With the option of armed resistance now in tatters, Constand Viljoen registered a political party — the Freedom Front — to participate in the elections literally ten minutes before the midnight deadline. A potential civil war had been averted and Afrikaner resistance to the settlement process institutionalised.



Post a Comment

<< Home