Despite his advancing years and his stint in prison for assault, Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene TerreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢blanche is still an imposing figure.
”The rest of my life belongs to my culture, my language, my God and my nation,” he said in an interview on Thursday.
For years he was loved and hated by the media in equal measure — where ET was, would be a story.
He had a sense of the dramatic, making entrances on his black Friesian stallion, Attila. He had a gift for oration, with a voice that could mesmerise and inflame.
At his home in the little North West town of Ventersdorp, I met a man changed, a man who, by his own admission, ”met God” while in prison.
”I have always been a religious man,” he said. ”But like many Christians, God was my back-up, not my rudder.
”That changed while I was in prison.”
TerreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢blanche said there is little in his life that he regrets.
”I asked for forgiveness, and I was forgiven. So why must I have regrets?”
He says he does not even regret his time in prison.
”If I look back on the four-and-a-half years I spent in prison, so many things could have happened to me. I worked on the prison farm, I worked with cattle, I rode young, wild horses. Nothing happened to me, I didn’t fall once!”
He worked on the prison farm for three years, after starting his time behind bars weeding an area of no-man’s-land around the prison.
He was called in to help after a number of the prison’s cattle died of gas gangrene. That, TerreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢blanche says, signalled a change in his whole prison experience.
”I was out in the veld most of the day. Alone. I worked with horses and there was no one who wanted to ride with me, they were all too scared. So no one guarded me.”
The thought of escaping did cross his mind, he says. But he did not do it.
One night, TerreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢blanche tells with a twinkle in his eyes, he was out late herding cattle on horseback.
”I unsaddled my horse when I was finished, carried my saddle and bridle to the prison and had to struggle for a long time to get in; it was after hours. Others were fighting to get out; I was fighting to get in!
”Man, did the mosquitoes bite me that night!”
He says he is a more mature man than before.
”In prison, you have time, lots of it. Nothing else occupies your thoughts, your time. You think, you struggle with yourself and with God.
”At night, you are alone in your cell, with the noise of all the convicts around you.”
Before he went to prison, TerreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢blanche had to sell his farm because he feared civil claims against him.
After his release on parole, he took up motivational speaking to make a living and to buy back his farm. He managed to get the family farm, about 15km from the town, back, but — by his own admission — still owes lots of money.
”While I was on parole, it was actually quite nice. I didn’t suffer while I was on parole. I could only be at home, in town, or on my farm.
”So, I spent most of my time on the farm, working, rebuilding. Of course, everything was more or less ruined while I was in prison.”
He survived his time in prison by writing poetry.
A DVD of his prison poetry, including a poem about his horse, will be released in Centurion in late September.
”I also owe my nation a book about my experiences while in prison. Look, while I was on parole I was not allowed to talk about it, but now that I got the remission on my sentence, I can.”
He reads a few of his poems.
TerreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢blanche says his opinion about black people has not changed.
”I have always been made out as a racist, someone who hates black people. I don’t hate them. I grew up with them. I just know there are many differences between whites and blacks and I will always believe it.”
TerreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢blanche says he will spend the rest of his life trying to advance the Afrikaner culture and his language, and to lead his nation back to God and to freedom.
”From now on until December 16, I’ll hold a number of meetings. Then, on December 16, I’ll have a big meeting at Church Square in Pretoria.
”Then I want to appeal to the Afrikaner nation to humble them before God and to ask for forgiveness.
”I will then get a mandate from the nation whether they want the AWB to continue as an organisation, or whether they want it to become part of a bigger movement.”
He is proud of being an Afrikaner.
”Our nation is unique. We grew out of a desire to worship God in a certain way; we grew from a number of other nations who were being prosecuted because of their faith.
”We have a wonderful culture, a wonderful, vibrant language. I want my people to be proud of who they are again.”
As a nation, he believes, the Afrikaner has the right to self-determination and self-rule.
”It is one of the fundamental principles of democracy, the ability to rule yourself. They don’t want to give us that. We are not free.
”We have everything a nation needs, except a land to call our own.”
It is obvious that he still is a well-known and prominent figure in his community.
Even a black security guard could direct me to his house, next to the AWB offices with an old ox wagon on the front porch.
At a restaurant, a woman told me: ”You better write nice things about him.” — Sapa