White Rightists Sentenced to Prison
Apr. 03, 1996
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Ten neo-Nazis were sentenced today to prison terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 26 years for their roles in a deadly bombing spree meant to disrupt South Africa's first all-race election.
The April 1994 bombings, which killed 21 people and injured dozens, were the last gasp of whites who had threatened to fight for apartheid.
Families of the victims called the sentences a mockery of justice, while right-wing extremists denounced the prison terms as politically biased and predicted civil war.
The convicted men were all members of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, known by its Afrikaans-language acronym, AWB. Before the hearing, an AWB member dressed in camouflage led the convicted men in prayer dedicated ``to God and Fatherland.''
None of them showed any emotion as the sentences were read, but their relatives in the courtroom wept.
The three bombings occurred days before the April 1994 election. One exploded outside the headquarters of President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress in downtown Johannesburg, another at a taxi stand used by black commuters in a Johannesburg suburb and a third at the city's airport.
In passing sentence today, Judge H.J.C. Fleming noted the tense climate, rife with rumors of race war, in the days before the elections.
The white bombers ``feared for their lives,'' Fleming said. ``They were influenced by certain political concepts. They were caught up in this emotive situation.''
Prosecutors had sought life sentences, the maximum allowed under South African law, but Fleming argued that the fixed terms he imposed would be more difficult to reduce in parole hearings.
``I think it's a travesty of justice,'' fumed John Keane, whose daughter, Susan, was killed in one bombing. ``What would they have got had they been in the IRA and bombed London?''
Abraham Fourie, Johannes Venter, Jaco Nel, Petrus Steyn and Gerhardus Fourie were sentenced to 26 years for murder and other charges.
Five others convicted on lesser charges received lighter sentences. Four AWB members charged in the bombings escaped from prison last month and remain at large.
`We're sitting on a powder keg that just begs to be lit,'' group spokesman Fred Rundle said after the sentencing. ``I personally believe we're heading for a civil war. It's coming because the government is not addressing the anger of whites.''
Despite Rundle's tough talk, most whites back the peaceful changes advocated by Mandela, the country's first black president, and moderate white leaders.
Outside the courtroom, about 100 black demonstrators called for harsh punishment. The demonstrators booed as AWB leader Eugene TerreBlanche, who was not charged and attended the sentencing hearing in a show of support, left the downtown Johannesburg court house.
Hecklers followed TerreBlanche and two unidentified aides, all with pistols at their waists and dressed in the pseudo-military uniforms favored by the AWB, to a car. The driver, apparently unnerved, rear-ended a car parked in front of him before speeding off.