Arthur Kemp, Victory or Violence: The Story of the AWB of South Africa, Ostara Publications, (Third Edition, 2012), $24.95, 227 pp.
If anyone should have seen it coming, it was the Afrikaners. The White Tribe of Africa watched neighboring countries fall one by one into the nightmare of black government, mass violence, and poverty. South Africans saw around them even in their own country the immutable nature of Africans. And yet, in 1992 the Afrikaners voted to commit suicide as a people. Why didn’t they fight back? Why didn’t they make a stand?
In fact, they did—or at least some of them did. The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB—Afrikaner Resistance Movement) carried on a remarkably sophisticated and widespread campaign of violent resistance to black rule. At its height, the AWB was supported by a relatively large percentage of the white population and had working relationships with influential political and military figures. The group was well armed, well trained, and gifted with a charismatic leader, Eugene Terre’Blanche.
Perhaps more importantly, the group had a clear political objective: the creation of a Volkstaat for the Boer nation, where the “Volk” could practice self-determination without ruling over non-whites. While some may joke that “an Afrikaner would rather be murdered in his bed than have to make it,” the AWB was well aware of the dangers of cheap non-white labor, white supremacy (as opposed to white self-government), and deracinated capitalism. Far from being a reactionary defender of apartheid, the AWB was a revolutionary movement dedicated to building a new Boer Republic.
Why did it fail? The AWB was not defeated by the African National Congress (ANC) nor by the world community. It was defeated by white conservatives—fellow Afrikaners who saw the AWB as a greater threat to their way of life than even the ANC. In retrospect, some may argue that the radical aesthetics and extreme rhetoric of the AWB pushed moderate conservatives into the arms of the ANC, and so led to the destruction of South Africa as a First World nation. However, a closer examination shows that conservatives and even some nationalists truly believed their own wishful thinking.
Conservatives never had the courage of their convictions. The rise and fall of the AWB is proof of the difference between conservatism and patriotism, and a painful lesson that patriots may have to defend their country against its own leadership.
Part of the problem was that Afrikaners could not decide whether they were “South Africans” or “Boers,” or what “their country” really was. As a result they lost both South Africa and the dream of a Boer Republic, and Afrikaners are now a despised minority in someone else’s country. The AWB saw what was coming, but their people would not listen.
The following account draws heavily on Arthur Kemp’s third edition of his compelling history of the AWB, Victory or Violence. Mr. Kemp, who was born in Rhodesia and worked as a journalist and political activist in South Africa, lived through and took part in many of the events he describes. He has a unique perspective from which all nationalists can learn a great deal.
Racial patriotism vs. conservatism—the rise of the AWB
The beginnings of the AWB derive from a common theme in South African history: the divide between reformist conservatives and nationalist hardliners. The dominant political party in South African history is the National Party, which saw itself as the political expression of the Afrikaner people, and established apartheid under Prime Minister H. F. Verwoerd. Terre’Blanche would later refer to Verwoerd in a famous speech as the “architect of the Republic,” and traced the decline of the state from his murder. (page 35) However, by 1969, the National Party was compromising on policies of racial segregation, and this led to the formation of the Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP—the “Refounded National Party”). The new political party was crushed in elections, however, and relegated to the margins of society. In 1973, seven of its members started the AWB in Terre’Blanche’s garage. The AWB would be an extra-parliamentary pressure group that would focus on public relations and culture, not elections.
For years, the group had a small membership and almost no public profile. Its first public action consisted of ripping up the pro-integration petitions of liberal actors at a theater. However, it truly captured the public imagination in 1979 when members tarred and feathered a liberal professor, Floors van Jaarsveld, who had been heaping scorn on the Afrikaner holiday of the “Day of the Vow.”
The Day of the Vow commemorated the promise by the Voortrekkers to pledge themselves to God if He would defend them against a Zulu attack. After the Afrikaner victory at the Battle of Blood River, the Day became a foundation of their identity, and a symbol of their conception of themselves as a “chosen people.” AWB activists received light sentences for their action against the professor—Terre’Blance was fined 600 rand (less than $100)—because the judge concluded that the Day of the Vow was “sacred” to him. Terre’Blanche and his comrades were cheered on the front steps of the courthouse by supporters flying the “four color flag” of the Transvaal Republic.
This dual strategy of defending the faith, traditions, and sacred symbols of the Afrikaner “volk” and promoting a separate Boer identity characterized the AWB’s entire history. The first public AWB program, presented in 1979, was explicitly racial, religious, and—critically—anti-Semitic. It condemned the “methods of the anti-Christ, which resides in International Judaism,” and that uses a “denationalized government” to “disinherit” the Afrikaner of “the natural wealth of his land.” (p. 19) It identified its primary goal as “Christian self preservation,” which it considered equivalent to preservation of “the White race.” (18)
The AWB also favored state ownership of natural resources to prevent them from falling into the hands of “volks-alien companies.” Citizenship in a Boer republic would be limited only to those of the “White race who have proven their undivided loyalty to the Republic” and who spoke Afrikaans. (20) Though the AWB set up a political party, the “White People’s State Party,” it was never active, and the AWB maintained ideological opposition to the entire parliamentary system.
Such a program was hardly designed to appeal to the liberal press, which reacted with howls of outrage and charges of Nazism. The AWB’s logo, the “triple 7,” was claimed to be a Christian symbol, but the red, white, and black color scheme was, as Mr. Kemp notes, “obviously taken from National Socialist Germany.” (155) Nonetheless, the AWB continued to grow, at least partially fueled by its outright co-option of traditional Afrikaner symbols. In 1982, for example, the AWB successfully raised money to build a monument reconfirming the Vow. The monument stands to this day; even the ANC has dismissed calls to destroy it.
In 1984, Terre’Blanche first addressed a mass audience through television, and it caused an enormous sensation. There were armed guards, a torch-lighting, and Terre’Blanche gave a stiff-armed salute. The media were horrified, but Terre’Blanche’s oratory fueled rapid growth. By 1986, when Terre’Blanche spoke at a celebration of 25 years of South African independence, no one doubted that he would overshadow all the other speakers. Indeed, after he spoke, the crowds began to drift away. As the AWB grew, it developed auxiliary units, including a motorcycle division, an armed guard, women’s groups, and charities.
The AWB’s program of cultural activism began to pay real dividends in 1982 with the founding of the Conservative Party (CP), a right-wing challenge to the National Party. The CP and the AWB coordinated their activities to good effect. The AWB began actively disrupting NP meetings, heckling senior political figures from the floor, and thwarting internal NP goals through parliamentary procedures. In response, the NP (no stranger to disruption tactics themselves) sometimes used violence, leading to brawls. The NP also started using boxers and wrestlers to defend their meetings, though these attempts largely failed. Out-organized and outfought at the street level, NP meetings eventually had to be defended by the armed forces against patriotic Afrikaners.
The CP played “good cop” to the AWB’s “bad cop.” The Conservative Party gained strength as the AWB challenged the NP’s ability to organize in nationalist strongholds. For the first time, National Party rule faced a real challenge, and the AWB gained ground in some liberal strongholds as well. Even in leftist Johannesburg, the AWB shocked the media by filling a meeting hall in 1987. In 1988, the 150th anniversary of the Great Trek, Terre’Blanche addressed a crowd of 60,000 people, many of whom, as in 1986, had no interest in hearing anyone else speak. The AWB seemed invincible.
The National Party tried to split this emerging challenge on its right. In 1983, the NP successfully pushed a referendum that allowed Indians and Coloureds into Parliament for the first time; their success owed much to the fact that the CP and the HNP refused to cooperate with each other. NP members seeking moderate reform of apartheid also took over the Afrikaner Broederbond (AB), a powerful secret society that included almost every influential person in the South African government. Thus, institutions that were originally set up to perpetuate Afrikaner rule were instead used to end apartheid.
The NP constantly tried to link the CP to the AWB, and pressured the party to renounce the AWB’s support. In 1987, the NP published a report called “Concealed by Jackboots and Piety,” accusing the AWB of being dominated by “Nazism and Anti-Semitism” and, perhaps more importantly to conservatives, being anti-capitalist and anti-Parliament. When the AWB moved too far, as when an AWB official attended a commemoration of Nazi leader Rudolf Hess, the NP quickly moved to link the AWB to the CP. The CP was thus trapped in a dangerous position. It benefited from the AWB’s agitation, but it was also unwilling to be seen as united with the more radical organization.
Scandal and division
If the AWB rose to prominence on the strength of one man’s oratory, it nearly collapsed because of his personal life. In late 1988, there was a media scandal about an alleged affair between Eugene Terre’Blanche and an English reporter named Jani Allan. This caused enormous public relations damage among the AWB’s strongly Calvinist supporters, but even worse, it led to a full-scale rebellion among AWB leaders. High-ranking members charged Terre’Blanche with alcoholism and immorality. Though Terre’Blanche put down the mutiny, many of the AWB’s most talented organizers left in disgust, never to return. Even the security arm of the AWB, Aquila, severed all ties with the official organization.
Incredibly, most of the AWB’s grassroots supporters stayed loyal, simply refusing to believe the admittedly biased media reports. By mid-1989, Terre’Blanche had sufficiently recovered from the crisis to launch a new strategy of actively seeking political office—a radical departure from everything the AWB had stood for until then. He openly asked the CP to name him as parliamentary candidate for Krugersdorp. Not surprisingly, though the CP had been happy to have him as a tacit ally, it bridled at an open endorsement, and this led to serious fighting within the right wing.
The smaller HNP suddenly reversed its opposition to the AWB and announced an electoral pact, along with smaller right-wing groups. However, even this collapsed within a few weeks, and Terre’Blanche abandoned electoral politics. The 1989 elections saw the CP gain seats—but not enough to stop the National Party, which announced it would move forward with its program of “reform” that would eventually lead to black rule. A final chance to use democracy to stop the sellout of the Boers had failed. Perhaps even worse, the working relationship between the AWB and their respectable allies in the Conservative Party was fatally damaged.
By the late 1980’s, a bewildering array of lone wolf terrorists, guerrilla organizations, and ad hoc groups linked to the AWB were conducting violent resistance operations to stop the transfer to black rule. Actual and former AWB members played leading roles in most of these actions. In December 1988, a former South African policeman and member of the AWB named Barend Strydom indiscriminately gunned down blacks and Indians in a public square. He surrendered to a white policeman, saying he could not shoot someone of his own race. Though Terre’Blanche disavowed the attacks, he pinned the blame on the government for creating a climate of violence, and Styrdom received supportive visitors from the AWB and affiliated groups during his trial. Incredibly, he was freed as part of a general amnesty only four years later, on the grounds that his crime was politically motivated.
Styrdom was not alone. Former AWB men formed organizations like the “Order of Death” and the “Orde Boerevolk,” the latter based on the fictional “Order” of William Pierce’s apocalyptic The Turner Diaries. Headed by longtime AWB organizer Piet Rudolph, the Orde Boerevolk raided the South African Air Force’s chief armory in April 1990 and issued a fiery call to war for all Afrikaners.
The result was a bombing campaign against a host of anti-Afrikaner targets, including left wing newspapers, ANC-supporting unions, the National Party headquarters buildings, and even individual liberals, and taxi stands used by blacks. A “White Liberation Army” sprung up, as the police frantically began arresting current and former AWB men around the country.
White resistance fighters responded to black attacks on whites. In October 1990, three AWB men ambushed a bus full of blacks, killing six and wounding dozens. The South African security forces reacted overzealously, and Terre’Blanche took the occasion to present testimony that the police were torturing AWB suspects. He also organized rallies to free members who were being held without cause.
In 1991, the AWB came into direct conflict with South African police. Church groups had asked the government to let black squatters back onto state-owned property near the town of Ventersdorp, from which they had been expelled. The authorities permitted the return, and ignored the resulting increase in crime and thefts of livestock. Local farmers and the AWB took matters into their own hands, attacking the squatter camp.
The government responded by sending in police to protect the blacks, and the police obeyed the government’s orders to fire on the white farmers.
President F.W. de Klerk announced he would hold a public meeting in the town in August 1991. The local government told him he was not welcome, and the AWB, led by Terre’Blanche himself, made plans for its own meeting. Mr. de Klerk and his NP supporters were forced to hold their meeting at an army hall, while the AWB gathered at the town hall. Terre’Blanche whipped the crowed into a frenzy, and led a march to the NP meeting.
AWB men surrounded the NP hall, while the police desperately tried to keep them away. In the confusion, a taxi driven by a black drove towards the crowd and was rocked by hostile AWB supporters. Then, at the worst possible moment, the power went out. Another black tried to drive through the crowd but hit several people, killing two. Angry AWB men opened fire. The police opened fire on the AWB, and when the gun battle was over, three whites were dead and dozens of blacks and whites were injured.
These deaths only fueled the resistance. When the government announced it would house returning ANC exiles and their families in an abandoned school in Pretoria, someone blew up the school. A wave of other explosions in December 1991 and January 1992 destroyed black trade unions, multiracial schools, post offices, and a South African police training center. A group called the Afrikaner People’s State Movement claimed responsibility, but it was later revealed that it was a local member of the AWB in partnership with a CP member of Parliament.
As the violence continued, the CP won a stunning victory over the National Party in a by-election in Potchefstroom. Sensing they were losing support, the NP decided to press its institutional advantage while it could, and called a snap referendum for March 17, 1992 on whether to continue negotiations with the ANC. Caught off guard, the right wing debated whether to boycott the poll, but finally agreed to form a united front and fight it.
This may have been a mistake, as the NP quickly turned the campaign into a referendum on the AWB, linking it and the violence to the CP. Bombings continued in the midst of the campaign, adding to the atmosphere of chaos. Terre’Blanche also made two critical mistakes during the campaign. During one appearance, his horse slipped, and he fell off. This led to rumors that he was drunk (though Mr. Kemp denies this). Second, a few days before the vote, Terre’Blanche boasted that he had a non-aggression pact with the Zulu-nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, so people could vote “No” without fear of violence. The very next day, the IFP denied any such pact.
Outspent 23 to 1, facing media bias, and caught off guard by the speed of the referendum, the “no” voters were crushed 68 to 32. A surprising 62 percent of Afrikaans-speakers supported the referendum, though the “yes” vote among English-speakers, at 79 percent, was even higher. For white South Africans who did not want to be ruled by blacks, the system had failed.
Fighting back with violence
After this defeat, AWB members escalated their campaign of violence, in the hope of creating so much chaos that it would be impossible to hand over the country to black rule.
On April 10, 1993, an AWB member assassinated Chris Hani, former commander of the ANC’s armed wing and Secretary General of the South African Communist Party. This raised tensions dramatically.
At the same time, a group of South African military and police leaders formed the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) and invited the AWB to join. The AVF believed that if enough Afrikaner organizations banded together it would be possible to force the idea of a Boer homeland into the official ANC/National Party negotiations. The AWB realized this was would never work, and the differences in approach quickly surfaced during a famous incident at the Johannesburg World Trade Center on June 25, 1993.
Inside the building, the ANC and the National Party were negotiating the transition to majority rule. The AVF was demonstrating outside, demanding to be let in so it could present a Volkstaat petition to the negotiators. The AWB then joined the protest, with the aim of breaking up the negotiations entirely. Some of its supporters drove an armored car through the glass doors of the World Trade Center, and scores of protesters poured in after them, sending the official negotiators into terrified hiding. The AVF presented its petition, but there was hardly anyone to receive it. No one was seriously hurt, and the AVF’s supporters overwhelmingly supported the disruption, but the conservative AVF leadership was unhappy about the lawlessness.
Footage of the AWB storming the WTC starts at 7:50.
In late 1993 and 1994, AWB men were involved in yet another wave of bombings and murders. They targeted power stations and shopping centers, and in December 1993, they forced black passengers from their vehicles and shot them. In 1994 there were attacks on railway lines, ANC offices, and even the homes of ANC members. In listing all the attacks, Victory or Violence actually becomes uncharacteristically tedious.
Clearly, the AWB was not going to surrender their country without a fight, but it is hard to see a strategic purpose in the attacks. In retrospect, they seem little more than lashing out in rage against the betrayal of their country. A much more rational and potentially successful imitative was the incredibly detailed plan conservatives set up at the last minute to secure a Boer Republic.
The false start of the Volkstaat
The attitude of the conservatives to all the violence had been ambiguous. In late 1993, a new group called the Pretoria Boere Kommando (PBK), which included a number of AWB members, occupied a military base, but generals in the Afrikaner Volksfront, uncomfortable with AWB tactics, told the occupiers to leave. At the same time, however, the Afrikaner Volksfront was planning for part of the Transvaal to secede. The new territory would declare itself the Boer Volkstaat, and the AWB was supposed to occupy some of the towns.
Incredibly, General Constand Viljoen, an important leader of the AVF, then did an about face and announced that it was better to participate in elections than to secede. A public meeting of the AVF, attended by Terre’Blanche and others, showed that there was little support for elections among the AVF rank and file. The crowd wanted a Boer Republic, headed by CP leader Ferdi Hartzenberg, who drew up a “cabinet” with General Viljoen as minister of Defense and Terre’Blanche as minister of Law and Order. The situation was so desperate that all the groups of the Afrikaner right were now forced openly to associate with each other. It was now or never for a Volkstaat.
General Viljoen then betrayed the AVF and the rest of the Afrikaner right. Although Nelson Mandela declared that the ANC would “never agree to an Afrikaner Volkstaat,” Viljoen seemed determined to keep negotiating. He abandoned his supporters and founded a political party called the “Freedom Front,” through which the Afrikaners were to participate in the elections—this, in exchange for a vague promise from the ANC/NP government that it would “consider” the idea of a Volkstaat.
With Viljoen’s support gone, the CP also pulled out of the secession plan, making it unworkable. Needless to say, the new “democratic” government rejected the idea of a Volkstaat, and the ANC later thanked General Viljoen for betraying his people. In more bad news for the AWB, the Zulu nationalists of the Inkatha Freedom Party also decided at the last minute to participate in the elections, leaving the AWB utterly alone.
It was at this point that the famous AWB intervention in the black “homeland” of Bophuthataswana occurred. Mr. Kemp’s explanation of what actually happened in that incursion may be his most valuable contribution in this book. The media reported the incident as a military defeat of the AWB at the hands of heroic blacks. The truth was almost entirely the reverse. The AWB entered the territory expecting aid from Bophuthataswana’s government and military in establishing Bophuthataswana as an independent homeland for the Tswana people. This would have been a precedent for the establishment of a Boer republic. Instead, the AWB found that the government had lost control of its military, which wanted union with South Africa rather than independence.
Adding to the AWB’s woes, General Viljoen’s forces were also in the territory but refused to turn over any of the gasoline or other supplies that were under their control at what was to be a staging ground. Viljoen was eager to participate in the elections, and had no intention of fighting for an independent Bophuthataswana, even though it could have set the stage for further secession. Cut off from both their black and white allies, the AWB forces prepared to leave, but were ambushed by Bophuthataswana forces, which had rebelled against their own government.
The AWB men actually conducted themselves well, killing over fifty members of the Bophuthataswana military and wounding over 300, despite being taken by surprise and outgunned. However, one vehicle in the AWB convoy was separated, and three men were wounded. As they lay bleeding in the street, international reporters (who were quite willing to help other wounded people) contemptuously interviewed them rather than offer aid.
A black police officer then ran up to the men and shot them in cold blood in full view of the cameras. Instead of condemning this execution, the media celebrated the murder of three wounded men as an example of black justice. And that was, indeed, what it was.
Footage of the execution at Bophuthatswana starts at 5:09.
Even after this catastrophe, the AWB continued its campaign in the Western Transvaal through the April 1994 elections. Mr. Kemp concludes that “the only organized physical resistance came from the AWB.” (263) It set off bombs “four times as big as the biggest bomb that the ANC had ever been able to detonate during its twenty-nine year guerrilla campaign.” It destroyed the South African Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the offices of the Department of Home Affairs and a gasoline pipeline. There were isolated bombings up until 1996.
The purpose of this campaign was to disrupt the multiracial elections, or even prevent them from taking at place at all. However, in the absence of a plan to secure a Volkstaat, the bombings and terrorism were strangely purposeless, even nihilistic. Violence that was not linked to a concrete political objective had no chance of accomplishing anything.
Needless to say, the bombings failed to stop the elections, and the AWB was gradually marginalized. Terre’Blanche went to prison for a non-political assault, and the AWB was dormant for many years.
In 2008, Terre’Blanche revived the AWB, hoping to take the proposal for a Boer Volkstaat to the United Nations. However, in 2010, he was beaten to death by his own black workers in his own bed—a sadly typical end for Afrikaners dependent on black laborers. The AWB went out with a whimper, not a bang.
South African or Boer?
The AWB was never really a “South African” movement. It was a “Boer” movement that traced its heritage to the independent Boer Republics that were taken over by the British. As a result, the AWB and the Volkstaat movement could hardly be called conservative, since they rejected the unitary South African state. This claim to a Volkstaat was based on the idea that the trekkers had settled barren land and had bought it legitimately from local black rulers. Just as blacks were to have their own homelands, so too would Boers have a land for themselves.
The problem was that the land the Volkstaat activists identified as theirs was by then mainly populated by blacks. There were plans to raise the Boer birthrate and promote white immigration, but a “Volkstaat” would have had to expel millions of blacks.
Furthermore, in Terre’Blanche’s conception, the Boers could exist only as a “Christian” nation, meaning that those who did not “believe in Jesus Christ” would have no rights. Mr. Kemp describes this anti-Semitism as a reflection of religious principles, rather than a concern that Jews were dangerously liberal. Terre’Blanche repeatedly asserted that Jews should not have the right to vote in South Africa because they were not part of the “Volk,” and that “Israel is their fatherland.” The AWB was not preaching white unity against blacks. It wanted a Christian Boer state that would exclude blacks, Jews, atheists, and English speakers.
The result is that while the AWB was able to adopt traditional Boer symbols, it had an uneasy relationship with traditional South African patriotism. Thus, in February 1988 F.W. de Klerk challenged the CP by saying, “Do you associate yourself with the political aims of the AWB—a South Africa drastically reduced in size . . . an attitude which rejects non-Afrikaners and the acceptance of those who are prepared to associate themselves fully with the Afrikaner?” The CP leader, Andries Treurnicht admitted that he “could not agree” with the AWB on an Afrikaner homeland. (89)
The AWB’s Christian principles also opened the door to attacks. The NP charged that all good “Christians” must ask themselves if they can associate with the AWB, which was allegedly National Socialist and narrowly Afrikaner. (86) The AWB and Terre’Blanche repeatedly used “Christian” to describe white Afrikaners and their identity as a “Volk” with a given faith and culture. Their opponents used Christianity to call the AWB immoral. The AWB (and the Boers traditionally) had an almost pagan conception of religion; they owed allegiance to God because of His divine intervention to save them at the Battle of Blood River. Folk and faith were one. A Christianity of universalist values was a weapon against the AWB.
The problem for the AWB was that too many white South Africans thought they already had a country: South Africa. Like whites in America or Germans in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, the dominant race and culture had given its character to the state. This had the ironic effect of undermining any movement for self determination. Thus, P.T. Botha dismissed Terre’Blanche’s challenge to give the Boers a “homeland” as no better than black demands for a homeland. And once the ANC took over and the racial balance of power was reversed, Mandela did the same thing: He dismissed out of hand any thought of a homeland for the white tribe. Under the NP or the ANC, whites would be forced to rule others or be ruled by others, with no opportunity to rule themselves.
Within or against the system?
One of the critical strategic questions the AWB faced was whether to operate within the system or against it. In their first statement of principles, the AWB condemned the “Jewish-British” parliamentary system and outlined an alternate model of government based on meritocracy and a corporate structure of professions, where doctors would help determine health policy, lawyers would determine justice, and so on. While the AWB believed in a limited role for elections, it held that “Democracy leads to a weakening of race consciousness.” Even under a dictatorship, if white racial identity were preserved, the Volk could have a future, but if the race were destroyed biologically, there was no hope of rebirth or resistance. (19)
The dangers of democracy and party politics were certainly borne out by history. Opposition to black rule was fatally weakened by squabbling between various party groups, especially between the HNP and the CP. The temptation of “elections” was also what motivated General Viljoen to sabotage secession, so his Freedom Front could compete.
However, the biggest problem in the AWB’s history was the relationship between the Conservative Party and the AWB. The National Party consistently tried to link the CP to the AWB, which the former always resisted. At the same time, the CP capitalized on the AWB’s activities and there was a cordial and productive relationship between the two groups until Terre’Blanche decided he wanted to run for office openly under the CP banner. He demanded set asides for the AWB as a matter of right, and was outraged when they were denied. In the desperate days that led to abortive plans for secession, the CP and AWB were forced into open association, though the CP pulled back at the final moment.
The AWB built itself as a non-parliamentary movement. While this limited its influence, it also allowed it to be flexible and form partnerships with any group on the hard right. Furthermore, it allowed the CP and other groups to create plausible deniability, a necessary step to defending their own electoral prospects. Some would argue that the CP should have let Terre’Blanche run for Parliament under its banner. In the end, Terre’Blanche’s abortive foray into electoral politics followed by his humiliating retreat made the AWB look weak. The AWB had its role as an activist organization, not as a political party. It was designed to bring a new system into existence, not participate in the existing one.
Aesthetics and ideology
The most frequent charge against the AWB was that it was a group of “Nazis.” While the group’s explicitly Christian ideology and traditionalist leanings were far removed from National Socialism, it must be conceded that the AWB’s aesthetic tone did not help. A party cannot have a logo that looks like a swastika, overt anti-Semitism, a giant eagle over the head of the main speaker at rallies, and a red, black, and white color scheme without giving people ideas.
How much did this harm the AWB? Moderate conservatives in the NP charged that the AWB was opposed to traditional South African democratic institutions and the free market. There is a great deal of truth to this charge. The AWB did want to replace the existing system, though charges of a “dictatorship” are exaggerated. Furthermore, the AWB did stand for state ownership of natural resources, and large-scale public services for the “Volk,” including free health care for women and children. Colorful groups such as the armed Aquila, the “Storm Falcons” (the AWB’s motorcycle division), and even a parachute division hardly supported the idea that the AWB was just another political group.
Nonetheless, the AWB consistently outorganized and outperformed the NP at the grassroots level, even to the point of making it almost impossible for President de Klerk to address a meeting in “his” territory. According to Mr. Kemp, by the end of 1988, the AWB had a membership of 14,900 people, with hundreds of thousands of followers and financial supporters. Mr. Kemp estimates that the AWB had the support of some 15 percent of the white electorate. (153) Perhaps more importantly, by 1992, the AWB had some 15,000 men trained and under arms in the “Wenkommando,” the armed force that replaced Aquila. At any gathering of the “right wing,” Terre’Blanche was a far more popular speaker than anyone from the CP or the HNP.
The AWB was never seen as a “responsible” part of the governing establishment, but people would attend its meetings and participate in armed drills as part of a cultural or extra-political movement. Its militant tactics also gave it a strong grassroots following that intimidated even people like General Viljoen. However, the AWB could never make the jump into government, as even the CP thought it had to keep some distance. The very pageantry and militancy that attracted so many people also scared away political allies.
The combination of an ultra-traditionalist ideology and provocative, pseudo-NS imagery was compelling, but politically foolish. The AWB was forced constantly to explain its ideology and how it differed from National Socialism. In 1987, it rewrote its program, removing some of the cruder anti-Semitism and restructuring its arguments for the Volkstaat in terms of a reasonable request for the Boer Volk’s “freedom.” This paid off: One of the mainline Afrikaans churches ruled that there was nothing “in this formulation [the new program of principles] against which the church wishes to express itself.” (145)
Had the AWB done this in the first place, its enemies would have had a harder time calling it National Socialist when its aspirations were actually quite within the mainstream of Afrikaner nationalism. There are much better ways to create a dynamic and militant image than using thinly veiled Nazi symbolism, especially when a group denies it is National Socialist.
Failure of leadership
Eugene Terre’Blanche was the AWB. It rose to prominence on the strength of his oratory. It fell because of his own failings. Though many experienced Afrikaner nationalists were involved in the AWB over the years, most broke with it because of their impatience with Terre’Blanche’s personal behavior. At the same time, the finances of the group were highly unstable and some of the highest officials of the party did not receive compensation. (152)
There is no way around the importance of character. Whatever the truth of many of the allegations about Eugene Terre’Blanche, charges of sexual misconduct and alcoholism did not come only from the hostile media. They came from some of the highest people in the AWB, fellow organizers who knew Terre’Blanche best. Many of these charges may have been inspired by jealousy, and Terre’Blanche was certainly not a deeply immoral man. It’s impossible not to be angry about the media’s outright celebration of his unproven affairs when Martin Luther King is hailed as a saint despite his sexual recklessness.
However, politics is not fair. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Eugene Terre’Blanche, whatever his gifts, bears heavy responsibility for not conducting himself so as to be beyond reproach, especially since the AWB called itself a Christian organization. Furthermore, by refusing to undertake reforms within the group or exapnd the pool of leadership, Terre’Blanche ensured that the movement would go down with him.
The betrayal by the conservatives
Nevertheless, the most important lesson of the AWB has little to do with the AWB itself, and more to do with its erstwhile allies in the Conservative Party and the Afrikaner Volksfront. By the early 1990s, all the political subtleties and maneuvering had dropped away. It was clear that the National Party was determined to hand the country over to the African National Congress, and that the Boers would be a powerless minority in their own country. The secession plan in the Transvaal was the last chance to secure a Volkstaat and the survival of the Boers as a people.
General Viljoen’s decision to abandon his allies in return for a promise from his enemies is a typical example of conservative wishful thinking. The CP’s failure to go forward with secession is another example of a last-minute failure of will. CP members must have known that if the handover took place, their party would become utterly irrelevant. Yet, at the critical moment, they abandoned the AWB, leaving the only group willing to resist. Aside from the AWB, the conservative opposition to black rule was almost entirely wishful thinking and self-deception.
In a much smaller way, we see this with the behavior of the Republican Party in the United States on the immigration issue. Regardless of the hard facts of voting patterns and the lessons of past experience in states like California, Republicans plunge forward with plans for minority “outreach” without even considering the possibility of “unrespectable” but eminently practical alternatives. The “respectable right” of South Africa, from the Freedom Front to the Conservative Party, made the decision that they would rather play by the rules of a rigged game than accept a revolutionary role like that of the AWB. The most they can hope for in the end is to be treated like General Viljoen: contemptuous congratulation from their racial enemies for being good losers.
The lesson here for racial patriots is that conservatism as an ideology is distinguished by the love of institutions and policies without the willingness to defend the people who make them possible. Conservatives qua conservative suffer from a fatal lack of imagination. Ultimately, most members of the Afrikaner political system, from the National Party on, decided that it was preferable to make common cause with the ANC than to dismantle the institutions of the South African state. Eugene Terre’Blanche had warned the Afrikaners that eventually they would be forced to choose between the AWB and the ANC. They chose the ANC. They could not imagine anything else.
The rise and fall of the AWB is a universal story that goes beyond South Africa. The AWB confronted the problem of breaking away from a nominally white-controlled system that was pursuing policies destructive of their “Volk.” Their solution was the Volkstaat, but the conservatives could not marshal the imagination or the courage to follow them. South Africa is now just another miserable Third-World state, but whites around the world face the same problem as the AWB, and this time, there is no escape.
White advocates working for an ethnostate should remember to ground their movements within the traditional forms of their own cultures, avoid becoming dependent on a single leader, and maintain the strength of character to avoid corruption and infighting. Ultimately, no matter how skillfully patriots organize their movements, they will need to persuade some number of white conservatives to save themselves. Saving themselves is precisely what white conservatives seem stubbornly unwilling to do. Arthur Kemp’s Victory or Violence is a necessary and compelling study for all white patriots, but unfortunately, it gives no hint as to how to solve this last, critical problem.