Right wing fragmented and demilitarised, experts say

Law enforcement officials and race relations analysts have downplayed the prospect of a security threat emanating from right-wing extremists.

This follows articles published in last week’s Mail & Guardian, including an exposé of a quasi-military camp for teenage boys outside the Mpumalanga town of Carolina.

Frantz Jooste, the head of the so-called Kommandokorps, claimed to have trained more than 1500 boere-Afrikaner jongmanne in defence skills in the past 11 years. The group also claimed to have signed a unity pact with the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and the Suidlanders to co-ordinate their “security”.

The article drew an incredulous reaction from police spokesperson senior superintendent Vish Naidoo, who said that if the Kommandokorps was a credible military group planning a military uprising, it would not expose itself as it did to the press.

“For me, that story was just too good to be true,” he said. “We are fully aware of any threats, but we will not divulge any information and expose those who are busy gathering that information on our behalf.”

Dirk Kotze, a professor of political science at Unisa, said there were more than 100 small organisations to the right of the political spectrum, ranging from quasi-religious groups to civil society organisations, with some existing and soliciting support only via the internet.

“One of the biggest problems they face is fragmentation based on personalities,” he said. “In some cases you will find that the divisions that have existed since the Sixties [when the Nationalists split over Verwoerd’s sport policy, leading to the formation of the breakaway Herstigte Nasionale Party] still exist today.”

Ideological splits over the configuration of a Volkstaat also persist to this day, he said.

Kotze said the single biggest cause of the demise of the military option was the dissolving of the formal military commando system, which had provided a natural infrastructure for a “semi-military” culture to thrive. The commando system was disbanded during Thabo Mbeki’s first term as president.

“The commando system was in all rural areas and had given all the farmers weapons in a legitimate way. A key objective for its disbandment was to take away that infrastructure, or at least many farmers saw it in that way.”

What a camp like Kommandokorps represents then, is a yearning for a more militarised period, when conscription was the order of the day, providing a ready pool of combat-savvy manpower.

However, it is important to note that very little research appears to be available on right-wing extremism, especially since 2002, when the Boeremag co-ordinated eight bomb blasts in Soweto, leading to the arrest of several members who were later charged with high treason and sabotage. Jackie Selebi, police commissioner at the time, said some of the members were prosperous farmers and had access to defence-force weapons.

Last year Henry Boshoff, a military analyst at the Institute for Security Studies, was killed in a car accident. Boshoff had been consistent in his monitoring of right-wing activities. In an article published after the death of AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche, titled “Volk, Faith and Fatherland: The Resurgence of the White Right?”, Boshoff wrote that the concern was “the actions of lone riders who could seek revenge [for Terre’Blanche’s murder] and trigger further racial tension and violence, in ways reminiscent of the murders by ‘Wit Wolf’ Barend Strydom in 1988”.

Lucy Holborn, a researcher at the Institute of Race Relations and the author of the book The Long Shadow of Apartheid: Race in South Africa in 1994, said hate groups were isolated, “but when it makes headline news, it creates the impression of prevalence”. Holborn said that even moderate groups like Afriforum could be escalating the problem of racial polarisation as they contributed to a growing portrayal of victimisation by white groups.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.
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