South Africa: The Demise of Eugene Terre Blanche – a Class Analysis

The recent death of Eugene Terre Blanche, leader of the AWB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement), at the hands of two farm workers, has highlighted the situation that exists today in South Africa, on the one hand the many unresolved problems of the huge majority of black workers and poor, and on the other a minority within the white population who cannot reconcile themselves to the end of Apartheid, upon which their privileges depended.

4000 neo-Nazi AWB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) supporters attended the funeral service of Eugene Terre Blanche in the small rural town of Ventersdorp. The AWB claims to be the voice of the Afrikaner population (Afrikaans speaking descendants of Dutch colonists who occupied the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 on behalf of one of the first global trading companies, the Dutch East India Company). Despite the AWB’s claims to represent Afrikaners, the insignificant numbers that attended his funeral most weekends more than 50,000 Afrikaners watch the Blue Bulls rugby team playing in Pretoria would suggest otherwise.

The fact is that the ethnic and racial facade that parades as South African politics is little more than a smoke screen for the actual class divisions that underpin the real political landscape of the country. There is a small Afrikaner elite that forms part of the capitalist ruling class, people such as the Ruperts who own means of production in mines, factories and big agribusiness, for whom the neo-liberal nature of political transformation since 1994 has posed no threat. There is a much more substantial petit bourgeois component of the Afrikraner group, retired civil servants, soldiers and politicians who got golden handshakes (they were paid to step aside for the black petit bourgeois civil servants) at the end of Apartheid. Included in this petit bourgeois group are mine managers, small farmers, etc., and also a layer of skilled white workers, such as fitters, turners, plumbers, welders, mechanics, who were privileged by the Colour Bar legislation under Apartheid. While the Afrikaner elite were easily accommodated by the historic compromise that led to the 1994 elections, it was the petite bourgeoisie who were most threatened by universal suffrage, black economic empowerment, and affirmative action, who were most opposed to the compromise, while the capitalist ruling class accommodated the negotiated settlement exactly because it managed to extract from the African National Congress guarantees that it would not pursue a revolutionary path once in power.

The terms “black economic empowerment” and “affirmative action” all relate to an agreed to programme to create a black middle class that would stabilise the capitalist relations of production in South Africa and steer the country clear of the radical working class politics that marked the decade of the 1980s. In any case the Apartheid capitalist arrangement, where an almost exclusively black working class was policed and governed by a petit bourgeois white minority on behalf of global mining capital, was becoming globally unpalatable and economically acted as a fetter on the further accumulation of capital – the country started to experience severe skilled labour shortages, as the white population was simply too small to continue supplying this demand, while the black majority was simply excluded from meaningful education and skills training.

During Apartheid white Christian National Education, and the state controlled media indoctrinated the white minority, largely petite bourgeois Afrikaner population, that theirs was a heavenly ordained mission, that South Africa was the last western Christian bastion against communism and “black barbarism” in the world, that the Afrikaner ‘Volk’ (Nation) was God’s chosen nation, etc. The sudden collapse of Apartheid as a result of sustained working class action which saw almost daily strikes, working class slums called townships becoming ungovernable and a costly war in Southern Angola and Namibia, left no space or time for the regime to change the hegemonic impact of the right-wing psychosis that evolved as a result of the poison white youth were fed as Christian National Education.

Rally of the Neo-Nazi AWB in Pretoria in 1990.  Photo by Anton Raath.Rally of the Neo-Nazi AWB in Pretoria in 1990. Photo by Anton Raath. As the post-1994 elections government created a new class of black petit bourgeois civil servants, soldiers and skilled workers, so it set about destroying the white petite bourgeoisie through affirmative action, affirmative procurement and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). White civil servants became contracted consultants to government, became suppliers to the mines and factories and redefined themselves everywhere on the fringes of the economy. However, affirmative procurement soon required that they demonstrated that their “enterprises” boasted participation by formerly disadvantaged South Africans; blacks, women and the disabled.

The only space where they could practise their Christian National world view was on small family farms operating at the fringes of agri-business. Many would fly the vierkleur, the old Transvaal Boer republic flag, most would insist that the new Constitution stopped at the gate of the farm, many would deny election officials, labour department officials and trade union organisers entry onto their property, and many would chase farm workers who lived as labour tenants in a semi-feudal set up of the land so as to escape new land reform legislation and regulations that required that farm workers be given small pieces of land in proximity to their meagre dwellings (often mud-huts) and many refused to pay minimum wages.

The worst fate that could befall a human being on this planet is to be born to black parents working on a South African farm. The only equivalent must be the caste system of “untouchables” in India. A life of poor nutrition, limited education, appalling housing, rags for clothing, and stimulation limited to the environment of the farm and the wages of the parents await such a soul.

The farmers themselves live on the periphery of large scale agri-business, monopoly wholesalers and retailers, who underpay for produce and overcharge for commodities sold in mega-malls in the cities. They are all indebted to hostile banking institutions that favour big mining, big retail and big manufacturing interests; and to the Land Bank which is suddenly in the hands of a government they consider hostile. The South African government’s eagerness to comply with Washington Consensus Institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has seen the government voluntarily adopt structural adjustment programmes and remove protectionist policies that benefitted agriculture under Apartheid. The Afrikaner petite bourgeoisie is being pauperised while the government is pursuing a policy of actively creating and sponsoring a black middle class. The Afrikaner petite bourgeoisie, long the policeman and administrator of Apartheid racial capitalism, is suddenly redundant, finding itself on the scrap heap of history.

The decay of this middle stratum does not imply that it is being absorbed into the proletariat, because the largely black South African working class has been shedding a gigantic army of unemployed since the mid 1980s – one of the primary causes of crime and overflowing prisons in the country. 1994 has not seen the nationalisation or socialisation of the commanding heights of the economy; there has therefore not been any significant redistribution of wealth, instead there has been a squeezing of the white petite bourgeoisie to make way for an emerging black petite bourgeoisie. The pauperisation of the white petite bourgeoisie has meant that this tiny minority on the South African political landscape, already suspicious of democratic parliamentarism, came to openly reject it. This petite bourgeoisie, also confused by the capitulation of the National party at the historic compromise of 1994, rejected all political parties associated with that compromise, as it rapidly dissolved their status as privileged citizens in a capitalist system that created an ideological superstructure that advantaged them.

This petit bourgeois minority of ex-civil servants, ex-apartheid soldiers and farmers could not accept that their reactionary “heroism” and “sufferings” in defence of “Volk en Vaderland” [nation and fatherland] had not only not been rewarded, but had come to nothing. Hence their hatred for the new political dispensation, the black population in general and the black working class in particular, and the easiest targets of their rage are farm workers. Thus since Terre Blanche was murdered by two farm workers a week ago one farmer has assaulted farm workers with a pipe and threatened them with a gun near Ventersdorp, another has held his workers hostage near Randburg, beating them up with a machete and forcing one to rape fellow female workers at gunpoint on a small farm near Randburg, while two whites travelling in a bakkie (pick-up truck) to the east of Johannesburg shot at passengers in a taxi commuter bus, wounding one woman.

White farmers and petit bourgeois Afrikaners claim that there is a government orchestrated programme of genocide against them – some 1500 farmers have died in farm attacks since 1994. Scientific research has found that 90% of the murders were the result of crime. Since 1994, some 230,000 black people, mainly in working class townships and ghettoes, have died as a result of crime. Is the system failing white farmers or is it failing the black working class? If a crime is committed on a farm it is likely that the victim will be white because most farm owners in South Africa are white - an indication of the failure of land reform in South Africa. (Whites still own more than 70% of the land despite being less than 10% of the population). These facts put the whole situation in context. There is no genocide against whites in this country. We have a crime problem which can be traced directly to the neo-liberal policies of the government, such as the privatisation of safety and security (there are three private security men protecting the bourgeoisie and its business interests to every one state-employed policeman protecting the general population), the commodification of housing, the privatisation of health, education and social services and the commodification of legal rights and justice. The poor, especially the lumpen proletariat – the tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs as a result of neo-liberalism - have no rights because they have no money and therefore they resort to crime!

The AWB leadership originated from the lower and middle ranks of the old Apartheid army and state security apparatus, just as the membership arises from the white petite bourgeoisie threatened by the compromise reached between the mining corporations, the monopoly banking sector, and manufacturing industry, where as a result of affirmative action they are being replaced, while white farmers fear land restitution and reform. In the Namibian, Angolan and township wars these reactionary elements had learned to speak the language of command, and to risk their own lives and those of the sons of the Afrikaner petite bourgeoisie in what they perceived to be wars against communism and black majority rule. The defeat of Apartheid has left them with a smouldering anger and a penchant for power.

TerreBlanche was also a product of the state security apparatus. He demonstrated a big temperament; his harangues were louder than those of others, and like the rest of this category of garbage left over from the Apartheid era he was a self-assured apartheid veteran with the insulted soldier’s thirst for vengeance. He speeded up his political career by focussing on the fears and suspicions of the petit bourgeois Afrikaners of the negotiation process, leading to his invasion of the negotiation chambers in a Quixotic replay of Mussolini’s “March on Rome” on 25 June 1993. In March 1994 the working class in the Bantustan of Bophuthatswana went on a general strike that brought mining, industry, education, health, the civil service and broadcasting to a standstill. The Bantustan dictator Lucas Mangope called on the AWB and the Afrikaner Freedom Front to destroy the uprising. Ordinary soldiers in the Bophuthatswana army and the police joined the uprising and the right wing was defeated and driven out. This working class mass action sent shockwaves through the South African ruling class who feared that it would spread throughout South Africa – the transitional government intervened speedily to resolve the situation before it could spread.

While history was marching forward Terre Blanche was putting himself forward as the leader and spokesperson of the ruined and drowning Afrikaner petite bourgeoisie. His quasi-Christian and racially tainted national socialist harangues sounded like commands, of the kind white males were attuned to before massacring refugee camps in Angola, or houses accommodating refugees in Lesotho or Botswana during the Apartheid era; like prayers by the voortrekker Piet Retief on invading the land of the Zulus, or the prayers of Boer general Delarey in the Anglo-Boer War. As Trotsky puts it, “Doomed classes, like fatally ill people, never tire of making variations on their pliants or of listening to consolations.” Terre Blanche’s speeches were like those of Hitler (on whom Terre Blanche loosely modelled himself), they “were well attuned to this pitch... Sentimental formlessness, absence of disciplined thought, ignorance along with gaudy erudition – these minuses turned into pluses”. They supplied Terre Blanche with the possibility of uniting all types of white petit bourgeois dissatisfaction around the beggar’s bag of Christian National ideology. However, the easiest and most defenceless targets for this grandstanding were farm workers.

It is therefore not surprising that Mr TerreBlanche died at the hands of two farm workers – one a fifteen year old minor (his employment in itself constituted a breach of the labour laws of the country) and the other a twenty seven year old. The dispute that led to the act of violence was the apparent failure of Mr Terre Blanche to pay their wages of R300 per month (less than £30). This was far below the statutory government stipulated minimum wage for farm workers.