Rightist violence toward academics flares in S. Africa

Right-wing violence is on the upswing in South Africa. Two more persons in academic life have been targeted by white extremists. Dynamite was thrown into one's home, and the other's university office was destroyed by a bomb. A local official also has been threatened with death because he proposed opening public libraries to black people.

There have been hundreds of incidents of right-wing terrorism in South Africa over the past two decades. Lately however, they have become more frequent -- and the South African police seem singularly ineffective in arresting the perpetrators.

Suspicion centers on the secret Wit Kommando (Afrikaans for "white commando") as the most active of the rightist groups currently operating here -- and the most violent.

The group, which opposes all forms of racial integration in this white-ruled country, is thought by some to be responsible for the blast (on Dec. 10) that destroyed the offices of Prof. F. A. Maritz, a University of South Africa (UNISA) sociologist. Professor Maritz gave evidence at the trial of nine black members of the African National Congress recently convicted on various charges involving violence.

The Afrikaner academician, giving post-conviction testimony to show mitigating circumstances, argued that the nine black defendants "did not have criminal intentions, but tried to serve a cause which, in their opinion . . . is ethically justifiable." He said their actions were the result of the South African system of social control.

The subsequent blast virtually destroyed Professor Maritz's office in the massive UNISA building, although no one was injured. Earlier, three lighted sticks of dynamite were thrown into the home of another sociologist, Jacklyn Cock of Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. Ms. Cock is the author of a controversial book, "Maids and Madams," a scathing report on the plight of domestic workers in the eastern portion of Cape Province.

The study found that almost three-quarters of the 225 servants interviewed earned less than $40 monthly for working an average 59-hour week.

The dynamite sticks were hurled through the window of Ms. Cock's cottage in Grahamstown during a dinner party. They did not explode, however, and no one was injured.

"That dynamite business in Grahamstown was terrible, wasn't it?" was the sarcastic message delivered a few days later to Port Elizabeth city councilor Terry Herbst. "Well," the message continued, "you're next."

"On your last birthday," it said, and the word "last" was underlined.

The card bore the inscription of the Wit Kommando. The organization apparently was infuriated at Mr. Herbst's proposal to open Port Elizabeth's city libraries to all races.

The Wit Kommando also claimed responsibility for the August bombing of the University of Pretoria offices of Prof. Jan Lombard. Professor Lombard is the author of a plan to drop many racial barriers in the South African province of Natal. His corner office in a high-rise concrete building at the university was gutted by the blast.

The Wit Kommando has threatened to kill Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches and one of the most outspoken critics of the government's racial policies. Other political figures -- some black, some white -- have also received death threats from the organization.

Right-wing violence has a long history in South Africa. In the 1940s a militant group of Nazi sympathizers -- known as the Ossewa Brandwag (Oxwagon Sentinel) -- used sabotage to oppose South African involvement on the Allied side in World War II. One of this group's members, interned at a prison in Koffiefontein, was Balthazar Johannes Vorster, who, as John Vorster, later went on to become prime minister and president of the white-ruled republic.

Black activists are cynical about the failure of the South African police to curb the latest right-wing terror, suggesting that if leftists had committed similar acts, they would have been caught sooner. Police deny such allegations. The South African security police, known as the "special branch," reportedly are investigating the Wit Kommando.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.