Thu, Apr 08, 2004 - Page 16 News List

'We for you South Afirca'?

Since white rule was ended in 1994, many of South Africa's 4.3 million whites have reformed a great deal. Others have not


Hushed crowds jostle for a better view as a shaft of sunlight passes across the shrine, inscribed with the vow taken by pioneer Afrikaners: "We for you South Africa."

The once-a-year spectacle at the imposing Voortrekker Monument on a hill outside the capital Pretoria is a seminal moment for the descendants of Dutch and French settlers who landed in the shadow of Table Mountain three centuries ago.

The vow and the light that falls upon it are the centerpiece of a ceremony that commemorates a famous 1838 battle in which a small band of Afrikaner farmers ringed their wagons and repelled an onslaught by 10,000 Zulu warriors -- a sign from God, they said, of white man's pre-eminence over blacks.

Since then of course, apartheid has come and gone and South Africa's political realities have turned full circle.

Ten years after Nelson Mandela became their first black president, only a tiny minority of Afrikaners still cling to the hope of white rule. But many feel they are being unfairly punished through policies such as affirmative action and land redistribution.

The group's recent checkered history is rooted in the four decades of post-war rule by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party. The "Nats" institutionalized apartheid, and despite the quiet complicity of most Anglophone white South Africans, it is the Afrikaners who have taken the lion's share of the blame.

While white supremacists undoubtedly remain,

commentators agree that most Afrikaners, who make up 60 percent of South Africa's 4.3 million whites, have reformed a great deal since white rule ended in 1994.

"I think their worst fears of a black government have not come true. They are getting used to those in power being black very, very quickly," said Max du Preez, a veteran journalist and long-time critic of the apartheid state.

A white ultra-right plot to topple the African National Congress (ANC) government and kill Mandela, currently being tried in Pretoria's high court, is viewed by most Afrikaners as the work of a lunatic fringe. But in the run-up to the 1994 election, a rightwing army takeover was a real threat.

"I think that the whole notion that the Afrikaners could rule again has gone from all minds, apart perhaps from those Boeremag (Afrikaner Force) fools," said du Preez.

Sitting in the shadow of the Voortrekker Monument -- built in praise of the great 19th Century trek that sought to escape British rule -- young Afrikaner Yolanda le Roux says the scars of racial segregation are fading.

"Things are easier now. A lot of fear and anger has gone. We were the last generation to grow up in apartheid and we have thrown something off we were ashamed of," said le Roux.

Reconciliation between blacks and whites has largely been hailed a success but resentments and fear over the Afrikaners' land and jobs simmer beneath the surface.

While some joined a "white flight" from the country, many Afrikaners argue that they are a true white African tribe and far more committed to Africa than English speakers who are seen as hankering after life in Europe.

With no desire or opportunity to live abroad, others have have withdrawn from Mandela's "Rainbow Nation" altogether.

On the edge of the Karoo desert in Northern Cape province is Orania -- a small whites-only town which flies the old republic's flag and considers itself a totally separate state.

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