Several right-wing groups expect supporters – some in camouflage uniform and some armed with handguns – to gather at the Ventersdorp court on Tuesday morning, when judgment in the Eugene Terre’Blanche murder trial is due to begin. But although emotions will run high, and even though at least one group said it was prepared for violence if pushed, serious violence seems unlikely.
“Let me put it this way: If people want to take the law into their own hands there is not a lot we can do, but as an organisation we will accept the ruling of the court,” said Steyn van Ronge on Sunday, who took over as leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) after Terre’Blanche’s death.
“If justice is not done we’ll consider our legal options. We are not calling for violence.”
In April, at the close of the trial, Judge John Horn warned that the judgment would be a long one
, but it is not known whether delivery will take more than a day. An appeal in what became a complex and long-running matter is also anticipated, regardless of the outcome.
The AWB, like several other far-right groups, were concerned that one of the accused in the murder of Terre’Blanche will be found not guilty of murder due to technical and procedural problems with the case against him as a minor. That, the groups agreed, would be a miscarriage of justice, and would variously be construed as an outrage against the memory of Terre’Blanche, or proof that the government was not concerned with the safety of white farmers.
But that very expectation might help keep the peace. Militant white groups not closely associated with the AWB or Terre’Blanche, such as the Suidlanders and Kommandokorps, were not mobilising their members and did not expect the ruling to trigger the race war for which they were preparing. And even those with a close interest in the case said they were unlikely to be further disappointed.
“We know that we can’t expect justice, for various reasons,” said Andre Visage, leader of the Geloftevolk Republikeine (GVR). “We’ve been very disappointed with the police and the court to date, and we don’t expect that to change.”
‘Armed for war’
None of the groups can predict, except in the vaguest way, how many of their members will heed the call to gather for the judgment. Van Ronge said AWB members will be in uniform, but will not necessarily be armed, and won’t be looking for trouble. Visagie says the GVR expects, among others, members of the militant Boere Weerstandsbeweging (BWB) to attend in their camouflage colours, and while none will come “armed for war”, many habitually travel with handguns for their own safety.
“We’ve discussed it, and we will try not to get involved in violence, but if there are people in the black contingent who start to irritate our people, or throw rocks at us, then we’re not going to put our heads under the blanket and we’re not going to run away,” said Visagie. “We plan to have two of our own video cameras there, so that if things go wrong we have our own proof of who started it.”
Such talk doesn’t particularly bother the police, who said they’ve had to control antagonistic crowds at the trial before, and expect to have no trouble managing the situation on Tuesday.
“We can safely say that they will find us ready and waiting for them,” said Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, spokesperson for the police in the North West province. “We’ll have a security plan in place and we’ll make sure nobody disturbs the process of the court. If anyone wants to test the police, they’ll find us ready.”
In the early stages of proceedings the police had their hands full with large crowds of white right-wing supporters and black members of the community (in one instance with the support of Cosatu) gathering outside the court. After one minor scuffle, triggered by a bottle of water and white woman who resented the black crowd’s rendition of Die Stem, the groups were kept well apart.
Perhaps more interesting than the interaction between black and white on Tuesday will be the interaction between the various right-wing groups planning to be in attendance. Both Van Ronge and Visagie have planned to be in Ventersdorp for the ruling. Van Ronge is largely uncontested as leader of the AWB, but Visagie also claimed that title shortly after Terre’Blanche’s death, and the relationship between their organisations remain frosty. That has contributed to the further fragmentation of South Africa’s already divided far-right.