Pretoria, South Africa — The real war for South Africa is only about to begin, says Eugene Terre Blanche: between his white Afrikaner Resistance Movement and blacks who want his country for their own. Mr. Terre Blanche has been girding for the battle since leaving the police force ``to serve my people'' 13 years ago. Now suddenly the country's most controversial white politician, he feels the day of reckoning is only months away -- ``8 months, 12 at the most.''
He spoke on the eve of a widely predicted street showdown with the South African government, scheduled for today in the staunchly conservative northern town of Pietersburg.
The government has decried Terre Blanche's Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) as dangerously ``racist,'' and seems bent on teaching him a lesson for his followers' takeover of a government rally last month. It is sending Foreign Minister Roelof (``Pik'') Botha, the most outspokenly ``reformist'' Cabinet member, to hold a rally in the heart of AWB country.
Terre Blanche says he's going to Pietersburg mostly to keep the police -- many of whom, he says, are AWB sympathizers -- from getting ``caught in the middle'' of a test of wills with Pik Botha. Now, he implies, is not the time. The government is on the run. ``It has lost the support of its own Afrikaner people, broken its promises to them.''
He calls President Pieter W. Botha (no relation to Pik Botha) ``a weak man surrounded by weaker men, who is on a road of `power-sharing' with blacks who want to take, not share, power.''
Under a suspended sentence for illegal possession of arms and ammunition, Terre Blanche rejects any contention the AWB gives its backers military training. He says there is no need: ``Virtually all of our members have served either in the police or in the defense force. They are mostly young people, they can take care of themselves.''
He does not mean to threaten the government, he says. ``I simply state facts -- that the government is on a road that ensures the Afrikaner people will reject it.'' He says AWB membership has mushroomed since the start of the year. The numbers involved are secret: ``Our only secret,'' he says, smiling, ``since President Botha would like to know the figure at least as much as you would.''
The numbers worry his rivals less than the kind of supporter he seems to attract. They are the very same kind of Afrikaners who first put Botha's National Party into government in 1948 on its platform of apartheid -- forced racial segregation. The platform became, for a people that felt wronged by English-speaking countrymen and threatened by blacks, a message of hope very close to a religion.
Terre Blanche, once a high-school debating champ, has captured that flame. ``I am not a racist,'' he says. ``I started this movement out of love -- love for my own Afrikaner people.''
He wants to reconstitute the Afrikaner's independent republics -- in the Transvaal Province, the Orange Free State, and the northern coastal area of Natal -- that were snuffed out in the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902. The rest of South Africa can do what it wants. If blacks rule there, that is fine.
But, says Terre Blanche, it is high time to turn back ``the British-international- Jewish'' alliance that has sought to encroach on Afrikanerdom.
``We are gaining support, not because of anything good I'm doing, but because of the bad this government is doing.''
``We are not a simple political party,'' he says. ``We offer people something more -- the possibility of greatness, of not merely pushing papers across a desk, but of being Boer generals!''
He says the problem for both the government and its black foes is identical. The Afrikaner, he says, has tended to do what its church and its government of the day said.
``But when their patience runs out, the explosion is terrible.
``There is an awful lot of dynamite inside the Afrikaner.''