South African right-wingers still harbor lurid fantasies of post-Mandela racial apocalypse
In South Africa, right-wing prophesies that Nelson Mandela’s death will be followed by a racial apocalypse refuse to be quashed by events.
Ever since the mostly peaceful transition to majority rule in 1994, right-wing South Africans have claimed the moment would spell an end to reconciliation and unleash untold bloodshed.
So engrained was the idea of a “Night of the Long Knives” that it even seeped into mainstream thinking.
Some plotted elaborate evacuation plans, radio programs discussed whether it was remotely possible and one journalist even visited a town where whites would supposedly gather before fleeing, just in case anyone turned up.
When nothing happened after South Africa’s first black president drew his last breath on December 5, or after his burial 10 days later, most were unsurprised, but for some it was nothing more than apocalypse deferred.
“They are definitely planning something. It won’t happen over one night, but will be gradual,” said Neil, 40, while on a recent visit to an Afrikaner memorial, the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.
The belief that one day whites would be slaughtered en masse is tenacious and can be traced back to the earliest white settlers on the tip of Africa.
Later, in the early 1900s, in the wake of the second Anglo-Boer War, the idea was propagated by soothsayer Nicolaas van Rensburg, who has obtained cult status among radical Afrikaner groups.
Van Rensburg was a farmer who only read the Bible and was unable to write anything besides his own name.
Among believers he is credited with predicting World War II and the rise of a black leader who some believe to be Mandela.
The “siener”, or “seer” in the Afrikaans language, had a number of visions that his daughter and friends wrote up in notebooks which today lie in a cultural history museum in the northwestern town of Lichtenburg.
In 1915, Van Rensburg had a vision of “a coffin lowered into a grave, multiple fires coming out, led by one big blaze.”
“Someone important is buried, and then a revolution breaks out,” explained Tollie Vreugdenburg, a police investigator who has worked on cases involving the far right.
Van Rensburg’s prophesies were among those adopted by white terrorist group the Boeremag, who plotted to kill Mandela and overthrow the government in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
One member of the group who turned state witness against his 20 co-accused revealed how they used the prophesies to plan and recruit new members.
“They relied heavily on the Seer’s visions,” Vreugdenburg said. “The Night of the Long Knives, Mandela’s death, was the main reason.”
After killing Mandela, the Boeremag would use the black uprising as a pretext for retaliatory attacks.
“They would then be the saviors acting to save whites,” Vreugdenburg said.
This month two more right-wingers were on trial accused of plotting to bomb government leaders, also inspired by Van Rensburg’s prophecies, according to Vreugdenburg, who investigated that case as well.
It was among such groups that rumors of a black uprising at the end of white-minority rule festered.
When it did not occur, prophesies shifted to Mandela’s death, and now beyond.
On his death, the radical organization the Suidlanders (Southlanders) suggested that members go “on holiday” to safe havens, but stopped short of calling for an evacuation.
On its website it lists essential goods to take on an emergency evacuation, which include canned food, a Bible, a rucksack and tampons “to stem bleeding wounds”.
A chain text message the day after Mandela’s death warned of the final onslaught on December 16, when Afrikaners would be “relaxed and on holiday”.
Originally a celebration of the Afrikaner ancestors’ victory over Zulus in the Battle of Blood River in 1838, the December 16 festival was renamed Reconciliation Day after the end of white rule in 1994.
“The loss of power in 1994 was difficult for these people,” said Fransjohan Pretorius, history professor at the University of Pretoria.
“They lived in a dream world then, and they prefer to continue living in that dream world.”