Afrikaners Circle The Wagons...As One Of Their Own Goes On Trial

These are gray days for South Africa's conservative whites. On Feb. 20, burly Afrikaner men attacked 300 black students protesting outside a Trompsburg school that refused to enroll them. Armed with pick-ax handles and snarling dogs, the men chased away the youths while four policemen watched. Three girls were severely injured; one was hospitalized. Moments later, the angry students went on a rampage, tossing petrol bombs and smashing store windows. One house burned to the ground.

Five hundred miles north of this one-horse town, history was being made. In a scene reminiscent of the U.S. civil rights struggle, 16 black children attended a formerly white primary school in rural Potgietersrus while protesters shouted outside. Days before, South Africa's Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling aimed at ending segregation in the nation's public schools. "We're already disempowered at the national level," General Constand Viljoen, leader of the Afrikaner-nationalist Freedom Front party, told reporters. "Now we will be disempowered in our schools."

BACK SEAT. Afrikaners, the nation's original Dutch-descended white settlers, aren't the only whites concerned. Soaring crime and murder rates are leading some highly skilled, liberal, English-descended whites to flee to places like Australia and New Zealand. Government figures show emigration last year was about twice the number five years before--though less than 1994, the year Nelson Mandela was elected President.

While many liberal whites are leaving, it's the Afrikaners who feel more than ever under siege. Their language, Afrikaans--spoken by 60% of South Africa's 5 million whites--has taken a back seat to English and African tongues on state-run television. Their nostalgic calls for a volkstaat, or homeland, have been ignored. Some have even launched "civil rights" groups.

Economically, of course, whites haven't lost much. True, more of them are seen begging on streets these days, partly because the move toward racial balance in government jobs has thrown some whites out of work. But the economy is still overwhelmingly dominated by whites. They enjoy half the country's total income. And the government, fearing destabilizing white capital flight, has refused to nationalize companies. This has made many whites breathe easier.

Nevertheless, it's an uneasy acceptance of the new order. In Trompsburg, white parents yanked their kids out of the school rather than integrate it with blacks. "The new government is trying to take a generation of children away from us," says Wouter Hoffman, secretary of the Conservative Party. He and other Afrikaner leaders are urging "separate but equal" English- and Afrikaans-language middle schools. But blacks don't buy the cultural argument. They remember the days when apartheid's architects spent five times as much to educate whites as they did on blacks--all in an effort to protect Afrikaner privilege.

It's "a witchhunt," claims one disgruntled Afrikaner. He's referring to the Durban trial of Magnus Malan. Former Defense Minister Malan and four generals are charged with allegedly masterminding the creation of a death squad that slaughtered 13 sleeping supporters of the African National Congress in 1987.


Conservatives worry that the trial is a sign of the future. Despite Mandela's racial reconciliation campaign, more and more whites realize that life as they know it can't last. The former ruling National Party, once the patron of Afrikaners, has remodeled itself to attract more blacks. Analysts predict middle- and upper-class whites will soon pay more taxes. So for conservative whites, the Malan trial epitomizes all that can go wrong. Says Theo de Jager, chairman of the Foundation for Equality Before the Law, an Afrikaner rights group: "If they can prosecute Malan, they can prosecute any one of us." Such fears of black domination helped install apartheid. The question now is: Will old-line whites translate their fears into action?

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