Kobus Pretorius cuts a lonely figure in the dock, even surrounded by 17 of his co-accused, two of them his brothers and one his father.
But Pretorius is no longer part of the family. His change of heart during more than nine years in prison, and his rejection of the white supremacist ideology that put him there, has utterly isolated him.
Prison and court officials keenly policed the separation between the Boeremag accused and the media as judgment started in the nine-year-old case this week, but Pretorius got his message out: "Don't lump me with the rest of the family from which I have distanced myself." Those with insider access say he is now considered a verraaier, a traitor to the cause, and is shunned as a result.
It is just one more minor drama in a case that has seen it all: escape attempts, declarations of war, recanted confessions and endless tales of meetings at livestock auction pens, petrol stations, shopping centres and restaurants. These were meetings in which small groups plotted to overthrow the South African government, drive black people out of the country and carve it up among themselves.
It may take a month or more to deliver the full judgment and arguments on sentencing will take longer still. Mike du Toit, the Boeremag leader, was on Thursday found guilty of high treason. He is the first of the 17 to receive a verdict. Then there could well be appeals. The Boeremag trial, in which outrageous revelations of an astonishing sequence of events have trickled out over the years, is not quite done yet.
- The Boeremag group developed a plan that was remarkably detailed in some respects – and astonishingly vague in others – for taking control of South Africa. Parts were implemented, but for the most part it remained pure fantasy. Some of the highlights that have emerged during the course of the trial include:
- White Afrikaners would be asked to store 200 litres of diesel and three days' worth of food for use by the attackers;
- Aerial photos would be used to plan attacks on key military bases, using a combination of personal weapons and inside help;
- Heavier weapons would be seized from captured bases and untrained men would arm themselves with sophisticated weapons systems for assaults on more bases and the capital, Pretoria;
- Attack aircraft under the control of the government would be shot down by Boeremag soldiers armed with hunting rifles stationed outside air bases;
- Key individuals, including the minister of safety and security, and possibly Nelson Mandela, would be assassinated, probably by snipers;
- Electricity to all or most of South Africa would be switched off by Eskom insiders – this would be both a signal for other groups to act and a way to sow chaos and panic;
- lThe SABC and other broadcasters (notably Radio Pretoria and Radio Jacaranda) would be seized and, once electricity was restored, used to announce that a white coup was in progress;
- White Afrikaners would flock to the banner of the Boeremag and attack black people;
- Black people would be strongly encouraged to make for the northern borders or the Eastern Cape by attacking them from behind and leaving food along major routes;
- These black people would be housed in refugee camps established by the United Nations;
- Coloureds and Indians who helped in the coup would be betrayed as soon as black people were evicted and either shot or kicked out of the country;
- Anyone who did not comply, both white and black, would be summarily shot;
- A military government would be established, made up only of white people and with high posts reserved for the Boeremag leaders and a bureaucracy strongly influenced by the ideas of Adolf Hitler; and
- White South African expatriates would flock back to the country, hastening the process of turning it into an economically vibrant white Utopia.
"Die regter het begin met sy uitspraak en kan in kort opgesom word as: Ek glo die staat en julle nie – SKULDIG!!! Hy gaan lyk my net lank vat om dit te sê."
[The judge has started with his ruling and in brief it can be summed up as: I believe the state and not you – GUILTY!!! Looks to me like he's just going to take a long time to say it.]
This was the message accused Johan Pretorius posted on his Facebook page on the first day of judgment this week.
Years after the fact, witnesses – including people who were close to the plot – differ in their interpretation of it. Perhaps Boeremag leader Mike du Toit genuinely believed in the apocalyptic race-war prophecies of the Boer soothsayer of the old Transvaal Republic, Siener van Rensburg, and started out wanting to protect his people from the predicted black aggression.
Or perhaps he was cynically using those prophecies – and the beliefs of others – to create an army that would carry him to the highest office in the land.
But the majority of witnesses agree that, in a version the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria this week seemed to accept, whether it started defensively or not, what the Boeremag ended up planning to do was nothing short of an unprovoked race war, a bloody civil conflagration that would be prosecuted ruthlessly and without mercy.
In years of trial and in tens of thousands of pages of documents there is no real indication that the Boeremag leaders ever considered the human toll they would exact.
This is one indication of the ideological madness (if not religious fanaticism) at the heart of the Boeremag plot, but the plotters' belief in manifest destiny and racial superiority is far better illustrated by the details of their plan.
A handful of men, they sincerely seemed to think, would be able to seize a military base, going up against automatic weapons, tanks and heavy artillery while armed with nothing more than shotguns and pistols.
These men, hugely outnumbered and untrained, would then proceed to herd black people including soldiers, struggle veterans and policemen – before them, with minimal resistance anticipated.
And, in their planning, the possibility that any number of intelligence agencies could have the capability to detect and oppose their organisation was barely acknowledged, apparently as part of the belief that anything run by a black government is inherently incapable.