Monday, 18 February 2013

Boeremag defendants: leftovers of apartheid or freedom fighters?

Three heavly armed members of the South Africa Police Force stand outside the Pretoria High Court during the trial of activists of Boeremag group. Photo: EPA

The Boeremag trial currently underway in South Africa has seen new defendants standing in the dock. Judge Eben Jordaan has found that Boeremag activist Tom Forster played a leading role in a rightwing coup plot back in 2002. Another accused is Dirk Hanekom. South African media reports that in total about 20 men have been charged with treason, murder, attempted murder, and additional charges including sabotage, terrorism, manufacturing explosives, and the illegal possession of firearms.
On July 11, 1963, the white regime of South Africa arrested ten leaders of the African National Congress and accused them of 221 counts of sabotage and of conspiracy to overthrow the government. That trial took less than two years and was known as the Rivonia trial – after the suburb of Johannesburg where the revolutionaries were arrested. They were sentenced to different jail terms. The leader of the group was a lawyer named Nelson Mandela who later became the first president in post-apartheid South Africa and a symbol of freedom and democracy for many people in the West and in the Third World.
This group enjoyed international support from day one. Although Amnesty International refused to recognize them as prisoners of conscience because of the terrorist aspects of their activities, the defendants became freedom martyrs for many around the world, because they wanted to put an end to the apartheid regime.
Thirty nine years later a group of Afrikaner activists called theBoeremag, or “Boer Force”, was arrested for an alleged conspiracy to create a separate state for their nation after what they saw as a planned discrimination and violent abuse of the white population of South Africa, which included widespread murder, rape, and robbery. The charges against them related to their desire for an independent state, which was considered by the State Prosecution as an act of treason. There were four actions of sabotage on their side with an involvement of five out of twenty three defenders. The rest found themselves behind bars for discussing ways of creating a Boer national state on a relatively small territory in South Africa.
Although all aspects of the Rivonia trial were criticized by different human rights organizations, some basic rules of fair game were exercised there. The Boermag trial arouses many more questions, but human rights groups are totally silent. They are busy in harassing the government of Russia and criticizing Israeli military rule in Judea and Samaria instead.
This trial will also make the Guinness Book of Records. It has taken the system ten years to bring procedures to the final verdicts, which are now being read out in length over the course of several days. Almost all of the defenders have already spent ten years in prison awaiting their verdicts. There is no precedent in the world for such judicial misbehavior.
Unlike the Rivonia defendants, the Boeremag prisoners were tortured and abused. Wilhelm Pretorius, a theology student 25 years old at the moment of his arrest in late 2002, is one of the Boeremag accused. He compiled an affidavit wherein the circumstances of his arrest are outlined: He was tortured by policemen in the ANC service for hours on end. It included continuous beatings, strangling, and “tubing” – a method whereby the victim is pinned to the ground, face downwards, whilst he is suffocated by a flat tire-tube being pulled over his mouth and jerked upwards until, in some cases, the back is damaged or broken.
After the arrests, the suspects were put in overcrowded prisons in filthy conditions – sometimes even without water. In their cells, they were subjected to continuous high-volume sound pollution until some of them suffered permanent ear-damage. On the way from prison to court and back, the prisoners were transported handcuffed, jerked around in the back of police vans. In one instance, this resulted in a serious back injury.
More than half of them have been found guilty already and the defense lawyers are not optimistic regarding the rest. Adriaan Jacobus van Wyk, a war hero in the 1980s, was found guilty last week. He told his friends in the courtroom, that “the system had broken all the principles of justice. While tens of thousands of whites in South Africa are getting murdered and raped on daily basis on racial hatred grounds, the media had been continuously accusing us of being racists. Yes, we wanted to reinstate a Boer republic, but not an apartheid regime. Why do the people of Zimbabwe or Lesotho have a right to their state and the Afrikaners are denied this right? Here is the real racism.”
It will take up to two months before we will know how much time the Boer activists will spend in prison. It looks like all of them will be found guilty of treason. The attempt to convince the judge that no treason can be applied in their case, because there were gross violations of the Constitution on the part of the De Klerk government first, had totally failed.
The Rivonia trial had led to a wide international campaign which brought Nelson Mandela to the office of South African President. Could it be assumed that the Boeremag defendants will be the future leaders of an independent Afrikaner state? Or they will be forgotten by the world and by their own people?
When lawyer for the accused Boeremag Paul Kruger brought the aforementioned violations of human rights to the attention of Amnesty International in Amsterdam, he never even heard from them again. This is because, when the ANC came into power, it seems that the world got what it wanted. Today, no one is concerned anymore about the plight of ordinary South Africans – neither black nor white.

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