The Deadly March of the Chosen Ones: They Plotted to Assassinate Mandela and Set Up a Boer Republic That Would Expel All Blacks from South Africa. Who Were They and What Drove Them?

Article excerpt

The convoy set off at dawn on a mission from God. Fifteen vehicles loaded with guns and bombs and right wing nationalists drove south from their farms in the empty north to inflict righteous retribution on Johannesburg and Pretoria, ancient white citadels besmirched by Nelson Mandela and his unholy scheme to transform South Africa into a multiracial democracy. Sodom and Gomorrah were now the right-wingers' names for South Africa's two great cities. And like those Old Testament emblems of vice and corruption, they would have to be made to suffer for their sins.

It wasn't just the Bible that set the example. An Afrikaner visionary, a nationalist hero known as Nicolaas "the Seer" Van Rensburg, had prophesied a hundred years ago that the blacks would one day take over his land, but he urged his people, when the day came, not to abandon hope. Soon all would change back to the way it was. There would be "a night of terror", "a night of the long knives"; a great black leader would be killed. Blacks and whites would go to war and the whites would emerge triumphant, once and for all driving the blacks out of their ancestral lands, towards central Africa, where they rightfully belonged. Van Rensburg, an Afrikaner Nostradamus reputed by his followers to have a direct line to God, envisioned "a bucket of blood falling over the north"--meaning the northern half of South Africa, the part the Boers claim as their exclusive birthright since the Great Trek, the historic land-grab of the 1830s.

The Boers trekking south on the convoy of death, with nearly 900 kilogrammes of explosives, imagined themselves to be the instruments of Van Rensburg's prophecy. They, the Boeremag (Boer Force), were the chosen ones and this was the divine plan that had been revealed to them: they would place bombs at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, ancient seat of white power where President Thabo Mbeki now rules; at the tall office block that is headquarters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Johannesburg; at military bases, airports, radio stations and bus termini packed with black people at rush hour--about 20 densely populated targets in all. Then they would assassinate Mandela, the crime of all crimes that would turn blacks against whites and guarantee the prophesied bloodbath. Amid the mayhem, the Boers would seize power, restore the ancient Boer Republic and expel the entire black population, finally succeeding where for 50 years successive apartheid governments had failed.

But early in the morning of 13 September 2002, word reached the convoy, as it sped south, that a large deployment of police--black and white officers working together--was waiting at Pretoria. The Boers scrambled and hurried off in all directions back to their farms, hiding their weaponry where they could. Arrests followed. One group of diehards, led by Johan Pretorius and his three sons, resolved to carry on the good fight. They had gone to a mountain top to make a vow to God that they would enforce his will and there was no going back from that. A series of bomb attacks in Soweto, one on a mosque, one which culminated in the death of a black woman bystander, have been attributed by police to the Pretorius family and accomplices. All have been arrested.

In all, 22 coup plotters are facing a trial that will begin on 26 January. They have all been charged with high treason, terrorism and sabotage--the very same charges Mandela faced in 1963-64, and at the very same court on Church Square, Pretoria (with the very same giant statue of Paul Kruger, the first president of the Boer Republic, looming outside) where Mandela, his best friend, Walter Sisulu, and five others were sentenced to life in prison.

This first attempt at counter-revolution in the nearly ten years since Mandela was elected president never stood the remotest chance of success (though, as one police source told me, they might have killed Mandela had he not changed a planned trip by car to one for a trip by helicopter at the last moment, thus avoiding the road where there was a bomb waiting for him). …