CHRIS ERASMUS January 10 1994



CHRIS ERASMUS January 10 1994




“Look, it’s as simple as this. If white South Africans want to be part of the homeland we are fighting for, then they will be part of it. If that means fighting the communist-controlled transitional government and the blacks who do not want a Volkstaat (People’s State), then we will fight them. No one, not the transitional government nor the African National Congress nor anyone else will stop us. If we have to have a Bosnia here for Afrikaner freedom to prevail, then so be it. ”

With those chilling words, Nico Prinsloo, secretary general of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), spelled out how his neo-Nazi group sees the months ahead as South Africa rapidly approaches the April 27 all-races election that will sweep away more than 340 years of white hegemony. The AWB, along with a clutch of other right-wing groups ranging from the fringe Boer Republican Army to the more mainstream Conservative Party, have in varying degrees issued the same threats since the establishment of the multi-

party Transitional Executive Council (TEC) on Dec. 6. And those threats are not merely verbal sabre-rattling by political leaders: many Afrikaners say that they are prepared to spill their blood for a separate Volkstaat, or white homeland.

Jan Grobbelaar is a 41-year-old unem-

ployed Afrikaner and supporter of the AWB— although, he says, not a member. His view is as clear as Prinsloo’s: “There is no possibility of a communist-controlled, ANC-led government telling Afrikaners like me what to do.” Added Grobbelaar: “We have weapons. We have our history and our God. We have the will and we will fight—let the world make no mistake. We will fight to the death if necessary.” For whites such as Grobbelaar, there is no compromise, no such thing as a nonracial democratic South Africa. For them there is only freedom or slavery, black or white.

But there are several obstacles for those demanding an Afrikaner homeland where whites will be free of black rule and what they describe as “communist domination.” One problem is the degree of æ support they actually have, as £ against that which they claim. 2 Another is the practical issue y of the boundaries of the envi! sioned homeland. It is a sim¡7 pie fact of life in South Africa § that there is no single region | where whites, numbering just

six million in a total population of 43 million, are in the majority—and there are only a few tiny backwater towns where this claim can be made. Yet those whites demanding “Afrikaner self-determination” are claiming a large share of South Africa as theirs—up to 50 per cent of the total land mass and much of the rare agriculturally rich land. Unconcerned by the fact that no credible institution, political scientist, economist or demographer supports the homeland vision of right-wingers, the dream of an Afrikaner fatherland remains at the core of right-wing mobilization against the TEC.

In mid-December, the Conservative Party, which controls most of the all-white town and city councils in the Orange Free State, demanded that the entire province be part of an Afrikaner Volkstaat. Every town and district in the province wants to be part of such a “freedom state,” said a party spokesman. He made that claim based on a poll that the party had conducted in white communities in the region, which was one of the old Boer republics defeated by imperial Britain nearly a century ago. If President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk or ANC leader Nelson Mandela wants to make the province part of the socalled new South Africa, they will have to do

so by force, said the provincial Conservative leadership.

The party’s provincial chairman, Abrie Oosthuizen, said the poll showed that 88.6 per cent of Afrikaners in the Orange Free State want a Volkstaat run exclusively by Afrikaners. According to Oosthuizen, 36,841 whites in the province (about 12 per cent of its white voters) were polled, with only slightly more than 11 per cent favoring a multiracial democratic South Africa.

The AWB’s Prinsloo maintains that the poll reveals only the tip of the pro -Volkstaat iceberg. He claims that most town councils in the western and northern part of Transvaal province also support an Afrikaner homeland, as do some in the Cape province. Any town that opts for the homeland, he insists, should have a right to join it—regardless of black residents’ opposition—implying that well over half of South Africa would fall into the Afrikaner Volkstaat. “This is not racism,” said Prinsloo. “It is self-determination in areas which are ours by right of historical occupation.”

But such claims are at best dubious. As the de Klerk administration pointed out, whites make up only 16 per cent of the Orange Free State’s total population. And other opinion polls have shown very different results. A nationwide survey conducted in November, 1993, by the independent Markinor polling firm found that only 28 per cent of whites support the idea of an Afrikaner homeland, with just 22 per cent believing it to be a viable option and a mere 14 per cent saying they are prepared to relocate to such a fatherland. Referring to the Conservative Party poll, Markinor pollster Marie Harris said: “I’d like to take a close look at their methodology before accepting their results. It may be that in some towns there is nearly 90-percent support for an Afrikaner Volkstaat, but I seriously doubt that that is true across the whole province.”

Former Orange Free State resident Hendrik Cilliers agrees with that assessment. Said the 65-year-old retiree: “Although I was in the minority back in Harrysmith before I moved to Cape Town, there were plenty others like me who thought this homeland idea completely stupid.” Cilliers and his 63-yearold wife, Sylvia, have some concerns about South Africa’s immediate future, but both feel strongly that the country’s long-term prospects are excellent. Cilliers said that his greatest concern is the right wing. “They have access to the arms, they have the military training and they are in every arm of the government,” he said. “We must take them seriously and, if we can, give them as much of what they want as possible—otherwise there will be lots of blood.” Added Sylvia: “If

we can get through the next few years without a civil war, then our future is really beautiful.”

Those optimistic views are shared by a surprising number of whites facing the most profound political and economic shift in their country’s history. Another Markinor poll conducted in November showed that about two-thirds of both blacks and whites feel that relations between the races are already good, or that improvements are likely. And, according to Markinor, those figures would have probably been higher still but for a very tough year in which South Africans have endured spiralling crime rates and political violence. At the same time, as the survey was being conducted there was continuing uncertainty over the outcome of multiparty negotiations on an interim constitution, which South Africa’s last white parliament finally adopted on Dec. 22. In spite of all that, a more optimistic note was sounded by respondents about their future than at any time in the last three years, said pollster Christine Woessner.

While travel agents, moving companies and embassy immigration officers report a huge increase in the number of inquiries about relocation to other parts of the world—mostly New Zealand and Australia—relatively few South African whites actually follow through (see chart).

Ebrahim Harris, a 41-yearold jeweller in Cape Town, says that he will never easily give up his home and business for a possible better future elsewhere.

Cape Town resident Janine Elson, 15, is also upbeat. Despite an official unemployment rate of 45 per cent and a projected intake of school dropouts into the formal economy of just seven per cent next year, Elson has no plans to emigrate. “I know it will be tough to get a job, but I’m not so worried,” she said. “This is my home. I believe things will work out here—and so do most of my school friends and family.”

Karl Schwormstedt, 29, a tool-company sales representative, is also hopeful, although Africa’s post-colonial experience worries him. “I never agreed with apartheid and I’m glad it’s gone,” he said. “But I’m a bit worried about falling standards and poor administration after next April. After all, that’s been the track record of every newly independent black state in Africa.” He added: “If we can get the economy going, then anything is possible. For that we need help from our friends and well-wishers in the West. With their help we can turn this country into an example for the whole world. As a Christian, I pray for that and for the peace we all want so badly.”

“Leaving is an absolute last resort,” he said. “Maybe if we have a civil war and the right wing try to burn the place to the ground, then I would have to take my family, but only then.” He added: “If I was to go to live in Toronto, I would have to face all the same big-city risks that I now face living in Cape Town, so what’s the difference? No, this is my home and this is where I’ll stay.”

No mad rush to leave

The prospect of black-majority rule and the threat of civil war aside, there is no imminent rush by whites to leave South Africa for Canada or other preferred destinations. That is the assessment of embassy immigration officers, travel agents and moving firms, based on historical trends and current levels of inquiries. Previous periods of violence and turmoil in South Africa have resulted in a net loss in the immigrantemigrant equation (see chart), particularly in the two years following the 1976 Soweto student uprising and the black township rebellion period (1985-1986). But even current uncertainties and high levels of criminal and political violence do not look like they will drive large numbers of whites—

or blacks, for that matter—to greener pastures abroad.

According to a Canadian diplomat in Pretoria who handles South African applications for immigration visas, there has been a sustained increase in the number of inquiries since the assassination of black liberation hero Chris Hani last April and subsequent political instability. “But we do not have a flood by any means,” he told Maclean’s. The diplomat said that his office expects that the total number of visas issued to South Africans will be about 1,000 for 1993 and about 1,400 next year. “Compared with the overall population of South Africa, and especially compared with Canada’s allocation of about 250,000 immigration visas worldwide for 1993 and 1994, that is not an awful lot,” he said. “Short of a major disaster here, we do not expect a flood of applications in the future. This is not another Hong Kong with large numbers of people preparing to leave in the short term.”

Indeed, immigration officers from other Western countries report that while inquiries from white South Africans have probably been at their highest level ever, the number of applications for immigration visas has been only about 50 to 60 per cent higher in the wake of Hani’s murder than for the same period in 1992. In addition, most applicants to Canada or elsewhere are unsuccessful—and not even all those granted immigration visas are taking them up. Meanwhile, according to figures from Pretoria’s Central Statistical Service, the loss of citizens to other parts of the world is being offset by immigration, mostly from the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe.

So heavy has the influx from former Communist-controlled Eastern European countries been that the African National Congress (ANC) has even accused the government of having a secret agenda: importing as many whites with anti-communist sentiments as possible before next April’s all-races election. Government spokesmen dismiss such allegations as nonsense. But the ANC’s case has been significantly strengthened, at least in the minds of ordinary black South Africans, by the fact that Hani’s convicted murderer is a militantly anti-communist Polish immigrant. Given the sensitive nature of the issue, it seems likely that an ANC victory in the April elections will result in a dramatic reduction in the number of Eastern Europeans granted immigration visas. Whether an ANC victory will also lead to a massive exodus of whites from South Africa is something that only time will tell.

C. E.

MIGRATION PATTERNS Despite decades 40 of turmoil, South Africa’s white population 302010 -10 76 77 78 79 BO B1 B2 B3 B4 B5 B6 B7 B8 B9 ’90 91 92 93