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History AWB

South Africa

The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) – Afrikaner Resistance Movement – was established on 3 July 1973 in Heidelberg (in the then Transvaal), by Eugène Terre’Blanche and six other young men. The aim was to re-establish an exclusive homeland for Afrikaners modelled on the Boer Republics, united under the old “Vierkleur” flag, in order to protect the Afrikaner culture and its values.

In 1988, Terre’Blanche petitioned President PW Botha for the restoration of the Boer republics of the Transvaal, Orange Free State and northern Natal, setting out the AWB’s vision of a whites-only homeland where blacks could only attain temporary guest labourer status. Apart from white Afrikaners, non-Afrikaner whites could apply for national citizenship provided they were Christian.

Terre’Blanche, the charismatic leader of the organisation, remained at its head until his death by murder in 2010.

Tradition of resistance

  The AWB was born from a tradition of Afrikaner resistance, first against the British occupation of the Cape Colony, which prompted the Great Trek; then during the second British occupation, which led to the Anglo-Boer War; and later in the form of the Rebellion of 1914 against the Union’s decision to engage in the First World War on the side of Britain.
The statesman Paul Kruger, President of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), and Boer war heroes like generals De la Rey, De Wet and Beyers inspired the continuity of the tradition against what was conceived as a sell-out of Afrikaner ideals in the country’s transition to democracy.

The impoverishment of the Boer brought about by especially the Second Anglo-Boer War, when the British forces’ scorched earth policy saw thousands of Boer women and children die in concentration camps and farms being devastated in addition to the loss of burghers who joined the resistance forces, was followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s and South Africa’s involvement in the Second World War. Under these circumstances, the yearning for an independent Boer republic flourished, as the emergence of the Ossewabrandwag and the Stormjaers demonstrated.
Apartheid and democracy

South Africa’s transition from a Union to a Republic severed the historical ties with Britain, but the Westminster system of government entrenched in government was viewed as dividing nations into political parties and as such destroying the Afrikaner ideal of national unity. 
For a while, white supremacists’ hopes rose along with the rise to power of the National Party, especially after the development of the policy of apartheid under Hendrik F Verwoerd.

After his assassination in office, however, Afrikaner traditionalists became increasingly disenchanted with political concessions to accommodate other (non-white) race groups in the country.
By the Seventies, it was already becoming clear that the apartheid government would not be able to indefinitely sustain its segregation policy, but was being forced to gradually accept national integration – although it would take another two decades before democracy would be established.
Enter the AWB, who resisted the change to inclusivity and clung to the ideal of establishing an independent homeland in which white Afrikaners could govern themselves.Fashioned on Christian-nationalist principles, the AWB drew on what it perceived as strong Biblical parallels with the nation of Israel, struggling against overwhelming odds but under the protection of God, and incorporated three vows into their doctrine.
These are the Covenant of Blood River (1838), when the Voortrekkers enjoyed an impossible victory over the Zulu army; Van Riebeeck’s Prayer (1652), in establishing a European outpost at the foot of Africa; and the vow taken at Paardekraal (1880), when 6 000 Boers committed to fighting to the death to restore the Boer Republics lost through the Peace of Vereeniging (1906) and the subsequent establishment of the Union of South African (1910).
Although critics have pointed out striking similarities of the AWB’s emblem (see top of article) with the swastika of Hitler’s Third Reich, the AWB insists that these similarities are coincidental, as the elements refer to biblical, Christian and Afrikaner-historical contexts.
Fight for survival
  In the fight for what the AWB recognised as the survival of the white race in South Africa, the battle lines were drawn and the “enemy” identified as the Communists, with the ANC posing as a “front organisation” for the SA Communist Party, later joined in the tripartite alliance by COSATU. When FW de Klerk’s government finally engaged in negotiations with the ANC about the transition to a fully-fledged democracy, the AWB declined to partake in CODESA and threatened to launch a full-scale civil war.
  Although taken seriously enough by government for FW de Klerk to schedule a political meeting in Ventersdorp, the centre of the AWB and home to Terre’Blanche himself, these threats were never manifested. Instead, the AWB were involved in a handful of widely reported incidents, most notably a tar-and-feather attack on University of Pretoria academic Floors van Jaarsveld for desanctifying the Day of the Covenant (1979).
  The invasion of the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park on June 25, 1993, with the aim of disrupting negotiations about the transition to democracy between Government and the ANC; the invasion of Bophuthatswana in 1994 with a view to making a last stand in the Bantu homeland against the dismantling of apartheid; and a series of bomb explosions on April 27, 1994 in an attempt to disrupt the country’s first democratic elections.
   In February 1986, the AWB Brandwag was formed along the lines of the old Boer commando’s, in order to augment what was perceived as a lack of police protection for whites. For many, their brown shirts evoked the era of fascism under Mussolini, and members proceeded to disrupt several political meetings.
  On at least two other occasions possible AWB strikes were foiled. In 1982, an arms cache was found on the farm of Terre'Blanche’s brother, Andries, and in 1983, two former members of the AWB were found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the Government and assassinate black leaders. (Another former AWB member, Janusz Walus, was found guilty of the murder of ANC leader Chris Hani, and admitted being ordered to carry out the assassination by Clive Derby-Lewis, a Conservative Party MP.)
Political impact

   Even the AWB’s “successes” did not have a major impact on the political front, while some of them constituted serious setbacks for the organisation, particularly the “Battle of Ventersdorp”, which left three AWB members dead after police tried to restore calm after the AWB rioted when FW de Klerk visited Ventersdorp, and the Bophuthatswana fiasco, which saw four AWB members being executed in front of television cameras after joining Genl Constand Viljoen’s forces in the attempted coup.

The outcome was the fracturing of the political right, with Viljoen and other right-wing leaders distancing themselves from the AWB, and abandoning a military option in favour of finding a political solution.

Although never a “national movement”, as claimed on the organisation’s website, the ABW initially gained ground among right-wing Afrikaners, especially while enjoying the support of political parties such as Genl Constand Viljoen’s Volksfront, Andries Treurnicht’s Herstigte Nasionale Party, and the Conservative Party. Membership, however, dwindled after the Bophuthatswana incident and its fallout.

  Initially, too, the charismatic leadership of Terre’Blanche drew many disillusioned Afrikaners into the AWB’s fold. However, highly publicised gaffes such as Terre’Blanche famously falling off his horse at an AWB rally, and his alleged extramarital affair with a Sunday Times journalist, Jani Allen, eroded his standing and influence.

After its leader had been sent to jail in 1996 for seriously assaulting a former employee, Paul Motshabi, the AWB fell apart. Terre’Blanche emerged from jail a reborn Christian who renounced violence, and tried to rebuild the AWB in a new mould, focusing on socio-economic issues such as crime, corruption, service delivery and the electricity crisis. The AWB did not relinquish its claim to a “free Afrikaner republic”, however, and had planned to campaign before the United Nations and the International Court of Justice to achieve this goal. In 2008, the launch of the AWB Youth Wing was also announced.
However, the emergence on the political scene of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, whose controversial public discourse stirred racial tensions in the country, the AWB started making militant noises again. When Malema started singing the struggle song Ayesab’ Amagwala in public, of which the lyrics rang “Dubul’ iBhunu” (Shoot the Boer), the AWB warned the ANC that it would interpret it as a call to war should the ANC fail to rein in its Youth League leader.
Then, on April 3, 2010, the AWB leader was murdered on his family farm near Ventersdorp, allegedly by two of his farm workers over a wage dispute. The AWB retaliated, accusing Malema of direct responsibility for Terre’Blanche’s death through incitement to murder white farmers, and threatened revenge. The shock of Terre’Blanche’s violent end reverberated around the globe, threatening to derail South Africa’s nation-building efforts since 1994 and plunge the country into a race war, as reported in the overseas media.

New era

Tension was, however, greatly defused when the AWB leadership retracted their call for revenge and publicly declared that the organisation would not support violence. Order was quickly restored when a new AWB leader, Steyn van Ronge, was appointed and direction given to the organisation’s members. The AWB’s dismissal of violence may indeed herald a new era of responsibility and maturity for the organisation, throwing the ball squarely in the court of Government and the law to calm the explosive situation.
This stance has already borne fruit, as Pres Jacob Zuma has been forced to criticise Malema publicly for his irresponsible conduct and, at the time of writing (April 2010), the ANC was preparing to discipline their Youth League leader. It has also rekindled the national debate on racial inequalities, minority rights, farm killings and the abuse of farm workers, and of land reform and nationalisation – all valid topics on the AWB’s agenda as well.

  By end of April 2010, the future of the AWB was uncertain, and the new leadership was showing signs of inner friction. On the positive side, however, the new leaders had themselves called for a debate over the organisation’s future course.



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