Behind the Headlines the Jews of South Africa
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Behind the Headlines the Jews of South Africa

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Five thousand South Africans launched a cultural cum-political movement here two months ago that raised eyebrows all over South Africa, particularly in the Jewish community.

The formation of the Afrikanervolkswag (AV) brought together under one banner an outright anti-Semite, a radical rightwing politician, the son-in-law of a former Prime Minister, and a one-time deputy minister of education. It was enough to make Jews take notice, or wince.

Dr. Sylvia Kaplan, national president of the South African Association of Arts, said she was “absolutely horrified” by the emergence of the AV and appalled by the Nazi-like tone generated by the AV’s inaugural mass meeting. South African newspapers were equally aghast.

In Parliament, the AV was roundly condemned. The Minister of Education, no doubt speaking for the ruling Afrikaner-dominated National Party, ridiculed the AV’s claim to being solely a “cultural movement.” Roger Burrows, an opposition MP, asked the government for assurance that no state funds would be given to the “(white) supremacist, racially divisive” organization.


Bursting upon the South African scene like a thunderclap, the AV is far to the right of the National Party, which in 1948 introduced apartheid. To the AV, the present National Party has traitorously deviated from apartheid by introducing constitutional proposals that would give Asian and Coloreds — but not Blacks — a limited voice in policy determination.

In the view of observers, the AV comprises disgruntled, frustrated rightwingers, disaffected lower middle class Afrikaners (South Africa’s first white settlers, mainly Europeans of Dutch, French and German stock) and Pretoria-based civil servants. All these groups appeared to be represented the night of May 5 when the AV was launched into prominence. Eugene Terre Blanche, accompanied by a uniformed guard of six young men wearing swastika-like emblems and heavy black boots once favored by the SS, put in an appearance. Terre Blanche, leader of the Afrikanse Weerstandsbeweging, has been quoted as saying that South African Jews would be deprived of political rights under an AV regime. Joining him were the following personalities:

* Jaap Marais, head of the Herstigte Nasionale Party, who is regarded both as an anti-Semite and an anti-Zionist. The party, which publishes a newspaper called Die Africaaner, has no parliamentary seats.

* Carel Boshoff, a professor, and his wife Anna, daughter of Hendrik Verwoerd, who served as Prime Minister until his assassination in 1966.

* Andries Treurnicht, leader of the 18-seat Conservative Party. His deputy, Ferdie Hartzenberg, has reportedly said that it would be difficult for Jews to serve in a government formed by the CP. (Although Jews here are suspicious of Hartzenberg, they do not think that Treurnicht, a former minister, is anti-Semitic. Thomas Langley, a CP member of Parliament, stated categorically: “We’re not anti-Jewish at all. Get it out of your mind.”)

Althought the AV is shot through with anti-Semitic rabble-rousers, AV’s chairman, Carel Boshoff, has stayed clear of the Jewish question so far. The AV, in short, has not adopted a public position on Jews. Yet Jews cannot ignore its existence. A random sampling of Jewish opinion found that Jews are either disturbed by the AV, or confident that its influence will be minimal.

Aubrey Joffe, a Pretoria lawyer, doesn’t close his eyes to the AV. “I wouldn’t ignore it, but in the context of South African politics, it’s a total irrelevancy,” he said.

John Moshal, president of the Council of Natal Jewry, in Durban, observed that the formation of the AV might even be a sort of blessing in disguise, because Afrikaners would be forced to take sides and would opt for the middle-of-the-road National Party (which has cordial relations with the Jewish community but once didn’t). Chris Moolman, an Afrikaner editor in Port Elizabeth, said that the AV has no appeal for Afrikaners.

If the AV fails to attract the loyalty of Afrikaners, as is generally thought, it will not pose any threat — real or imagined — to Jews. In general terms, anti-Semitism is a fairly inconsequential phenomenon in contemporary South Africa, if only because non-whites are usually on the minds of bigoted whites.

“It’s safe to say that anti-Semitism has never been an instrument of any South African government,” pointed out Michael Katz, the youngish chairman of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization of South African Jewry. Yet, as Katz would probably agree, the Jewish community has not always been so blessed as it is today.

(Tomorrow: Part 2)

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