JOHANNESBURG — Nearly three years after the end of white rule, South Africa is being troubled by a blast from its past. Since Christmas Eve, a series of bombings have killed four people in Worcester and seriously damaged a mosque at Rustenburg, near Johannesburg. Now authorities fear that white right-wing terrorists - inactive since the historic 1994 all-race elections - could be at work again.
Responsibility for the blasts has been claimed by the Boere Attack Troop, a previously unknown white supremacist group that says it will target communists and Muslims.
Jan Taljaard, a Pretoria-based journalist who has made a study of the white right, says that South Africa's right wingers have traditionally been hostile to Islam. Many of them belong to Christian fundamentalist sects, which perceive Islam as satanic.
The first concrete evidence of right-wing involvement came Sunday, when police captured two white men driving a car containing explosives near the scene. Both men are to appear in court in Rustenburg today. Police sources say the suspects have refused to cooperate, but one has known links to the white right, which in 1994 attempted to violently derail the all-race elections.
Battling for foreign investment in the face of rampant crime, a falling currency, and perceptions of instability, South Africa can ill-afford a new wave of terrorism: This week the ruling African National Congress (ANC) vowed to use the full power of the state to find and punish the bombers.
The parties of the white right are small and bitterly divided, but all share the common goal of a homeland for Afrikaaners. The descendants of 17th- century Dutch-speaking settlers, Afrikaaners ruled during the apartheid era from 1948 to 1994.
Yet despite evidence of right-wing involvement, police are cautious about launching a full-scale security operation. Police spokeswoman Sharon Schutte says there is still no direct proof that the Boere Attack Troop actually exists, or that the same group was responsible for both sets of bombings.
"We'd like to believe that we do have our intelligence sources well placed and that we would be aware if there was an upsurge of right-wing violence," Senior Superintendent Schutte says.
THERE is speculation that the attack in Worcester may be linked to the recent appearance of People Against Gangsters and Drugs, a Muslim vigilante group which has locked horns with organized crime in the region. And while there is clear evidence of right-wing involvement in the Rustenburg attacks, the bombs could have been the work of individuals or a small splinter group.
Mr. Taljaard also finds little basis for an upswell in right-wing activity. "You will find a lot of Afrikaaners ... who are discontented with the current dispensations, especially on issues like education, health care, and affirmative action," he says. "But [for] the large majority of them ... life has gone on very much like it used to. The sky hasn't fallen in."
Extremists such as the small Boerestaat party say that "God-given Afrikaaner liberties" can only be guaranteed by the restoration of the Boer republics, where the vote was limited to Afrikaans-speaking whites. "It's like the Jews," says Robert van Tonder of the Boerestaat party. "They claimed Israel and said, 'If you don't believe it's ours, read the Bible.' If you don't agree with the Boers, read 2,000 history books."
Like other figures of the far-right, Mr. Van Tonder says the bombings are the inevitable result of Boer frustrations. "The ANC bombed themselves into government and we will do the same," he says.
"Don't tell me terrorism doesn't work."