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S. African Slaying Suspect Ties to Pro-Apartheid Group

By Paul Taylor
The Washington Post


The suspect in the assassination of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani belongs to the nation's largest militant, pro-apartheid white organization, the group's leader acknowledged Monday night.

Janusz Walus has been a member of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), or Afrikaner Resistance Movement, a paramilitary organization claiming more than 30,000 commandos, since 1986, according to its leader, Eugene Terre'Blanche.

Terre'Blanche said he did not know Walus personally, and he sought to distance his organization from the assassination by denouncing it as "an atrocious deed." Nonetheless, he appealed for the suspect to be treated as a political prisoner.

Walus, 40, a Polish immigrant described by associates as a fervent anti-Communist, is to be arraigned Tuesday for the slaying of Hani, who had been one of South Africa's most popular political leaders.

Walus is the only known suspect in the case so far, but there is widespread speculation that others were involved, either through a formal structure such as the AWB or through a shadowy network of well-armed white extremists who have vowed to preserve the apartheid system.

More than 100 white right-wing groups, most of them no more than small, geographically based cells, sprang up here in 1990 following President Frederik W. de Klerk's declaration that his white minority government would negotiate an end to apartheid.

They carried out a spate of terrorist bombings that year, but the campaign ended after police jailed several of the bombers. The groups have been quiescent since March 1992, when de Klerk, in a whites-only referendum, won landslide support to proceed with the negotiations to form South Africa's first nonracial government..

"My impression had always been that the white right was a bit of a paper tiger," said Max Coleman, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, a violence monitoring group here. "I still think they are overrated and don't represent a major threat to the transition."

While that remains the conventional assessment, the Hani assassination has triggered fears that, as the multi-party negotiations move South Africa ever closer to a nonracial democracy, white extremists will become increasingly active.

Another concern is that black groups will lash out at whites in retribution for Hani's murder, creating a cycle of vengeful racial violence that could poison the political transition.

Leaders of both races reiterated their appeals for restraint Monday as sporadic episodes of stonings, lootings, protest marches and vehicle burnings continued to put the country on edge. In the most serious incident, three blacks were killed and four police were injured in an attack on a police vehicle in the black township of Kwanobuhle.

Already, many of white extremist groups routinely threaten civil war. "At this stage, we are still hoping for peace," said Koos Vermeulen, head of the Pretoria-based World Apartheid Movement, which has offered to pay Walus's legal expenses. "But if they are going to take away our land, our language and our culture, we must prepare for total war."

Vermeulen said he believes the only solution for South Africa is for blacks to live in tribally based, economically backward homelands, similar to the 10 already established under apartheid, and for whites to retain political control of the economically productive areas of the country.

"Blacks would have a right to vote in their homelands, but if they want to live in the areas where whites have created wealth, then they must obey (us)," Vermeulen said.

Other white right-wing groups take a slightly different view, calling for the creation of a new white state within South Africa of varying sizes and descriptions. Many of the groups' members are devoutly anti-communist and religious fundamentalists, and almost all are Afrikaners-the descendants of Dutch, German and French Huegenot settlers who created their own language and culture here beginning in the 17th century.

Afrikaners, who live nowhere else in the world but South Africa, consider themselves a chosen people. While the vast majority are not members of fringe groups, many of those who are say they are willing to die to preserve their way of life.