The dramatic events leading to the collapse of the Black homeland government of Bophuthatswana in March 1994 also saw the AWB deploy for the first time a large number of Wenkommando members in a conventional conflict situation. The Bophuthatswana conflict also saw the final parting of the ways between the AWB and General Constand Viljoen and his supporters.
The Bophuthatswana government had consistently refused to take part in the April 1994 multi-racial elections, and when this boycott was formally endorsed by the Bophuthatswana cabinet, ANC supporting mobs took to the streets of Mmbabatho and Mafeking, the two main towns in the homeland, demanding that the nominally independent state be reincorporated into South Africa. The protest soon turned into a full blown riot and then into a popular uprising against that homeland's president, Lucas Mangope.
On 9 March the unrest situation in Bophuthatswana had reached critical proportions, and on that day Mangope made a personal telephone call appeal for help to the AWB leader in Ventersdorp. Terre'Blanche and some of his general staff then rushed through to Pretoria where an AVF executive meeting was held, and at which it was decided to send in an armed force to try and stabilise the Mangope government. Viljoen was at that stage still part of the AVF's executive, and was a party to this decision.
The AWB generals were then allowed to use the AVF telephones to issue call up instructions to their immediate junior officers, and in this way a mobilisation call was sent out. It was claimed later that the right wing radio station, Radio Pretoria (set up to the East of Pretoria) had issued AWB call up instructions, but this was not true. All that station did was to announce in its news bulletins that the AWB had called up its members to help Bophuthatswana.
Viljoen and his followers in the meanwhile mobilised their own "armed wing" - the Boere Krisis Aksie (Farmer's Crisis Action - the same people who had been involved in the 1991 attack on the squatters at Goedgevonden) and ordered them into Bophuthatswana as well. After arriving in the homeland, the AWB forces were deployed in the White residential areas of Mmbabatho, where they were given a friendly reception by the White inhabitants, who had started to fear the rampant lawlessness and looting that was taking place in the centre of that town. The AWB forces were deployed under the command of one of the Wenkommando generals from Natal, Nic Fourie.
AWB Wenkommando members drive into Bophuthatswana.
It was however during this first night that things started to go wrong. Terre'Blanche, who had moved into Bophuthatswana along with his forces (which eventually totalled approximately 750 men, as opposed to the 350 men who made up the BKA faction), was asked by the commander of the Bophuthatswana army, General Jack Turner, to see him urgently at the latter's head quarters. This Terre'Blanche did, where he was told by Turner that the Bophuthatswana Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rowan Cronje, had asked that Terre'Blanche and the AWB immediately leave the country.
Terre'Blanche spoke to Cronje, telling him that he had spoken personally with Mangope earlier that same day, and the homeland leader had asked for help. Turner then also told Terre'Blanche that Viljoen and the then serving head of the South African army, General George Meiring, had visited the territory some four days previously, touring together in a helicopter. This news of course made Terre'Blanche highly suspicious of Viljoen's motives, particularly in the light of the latter's registration to take part in the elections some six days earlier. As Terre'Blanche later asked Turner, why would Viljoen, who had already decided to take part in the election, go and help Mangope, who did not want to take part in the election?
Terre'Blanche was further asked to move his forces to the Bophuthatswana air force base just outside Mmbabatho - a move he made against the advice of AWB General Nick Fourie. The BKA forces had already started to arrive at the base when the AWB contingent moved in. It was however clear that large numbers of the homeland's army and police units had sided with the ANC backed uprising and were hostile to the right wings' presence in the territory.
The AWB and AVF men had been promised weapons from the armoury at the Bophuthatswana air force base just to the west of Mmbabatho - but when they got there they were informed by General Jack Turner that the armoury was virtually empty, having apparently been ransacked earlier by Bophuthatswana security forces who had switched sides.
At the air force base it was made very clear to Terre'Blanche, by both Rowan Cronje and representatives of the BKA, that he in his person and the AWB in general were not welcome. Terre'Blanche then decided to leave, saying that he would go back to Ventersdorp. The AWB contingent could decide whether to stay or not by themselves - even after a further stipulation was added that they had to remove all AWB insignia (which they did, except for the senior officers).
Terre'Blanche however went to the home of a supporter in Mmbabatho, and remained in radio contact with his senior generals still at the air force base.
After Terre'Blanche's departure, Viljoen's appointed commander, Colonel Jan Breytenbach, formerly of the infamous 32 Battalion in South West Africa, arrived to take control. He made no secret of his dislike for the AWB, and was involved in a particularly nasty altercation with AWB General Nick Fourie, which only just stopped short of the two men physically assaulting each other.
According to AWB sources after the incident, Breytenbach also told Fourie that the AWB forces would get none of the available petrol or stores under his control at the air force base. Faced with no logistical backup, no food and no petrol, the AWB contingent then decided to leave the homeland, as it is was obvious that Mangope was no longer in control of the government.
The AWB men formed a new convoy and left the air force base, and accompanied by one Bophuthatswana army vehicle, sped through Mmbabatho on their way to the border. However, the Bophuthatswana army unit led the convoy on a route through the city in which no fewer than four ambushes had been set.
In each of the cases the attackers were members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force who had gone over to the ANC backed uprising. Although they were well armed with automatic weapons (R4 and R5 rifles) 40 mm mortars and armoured vehicles, they did not manage to kill any AWB men in these fire fights- and later SABC radio reported that over 50 Bophuthatswana soldiers had been killed and over 300 wounded by the AWB forces.
The fact that there were no AWB casualties during these ambushes was regarded by the AWB as nothing short of a miracle- the men were mostly riding on open pick up vans, armed only with handguns and light hunting rifles, while their attackers were heavily armed. Several AWB men were seriously injured when their vehicles were literally shot to pieces underneath them, but they all recovered from their wounds.
Somehow one vehicle was separated from the convoy - it is said that they turned off in search of petrol, but the truth will never be known as all the participants are dead - and it was this lone vehicle which was to become the focus of world attention at that time.
The vehicle in question was a blue Mercedes being driven by AWB Colonel Alwyn Wolfaardt, and had as its passengers AWB General Nick Fourie and Veldkornet (Field Cornet) Fanie Uys.
As the vehicle was travelling all alone down the road directly in front of the main Mmbabatho police station, it was riddled with gunfire from Bophuthatswana troops in and around two armoured personnel carriers standing outside the police station. The withering gunfire managed to bring the Mercedes to a halt.
Inside, AWB General Fourie had been hit in the neck, and was already unconscious. Next to him Wolfaardt had been hit in the arm and in the back seat Uys had been hit in the leg.
In the full view of foreign and local television cameras, the two conscious men managed to open the car doors, push the dying Nic Fourie out onto the road, and then themselves crawled out next to the car.
The Bophuthatswana police then placed them under arrest, taking away their weapons, but strangely not trying to remove them or to give them medical aid. In a bizarre interlude the men lay there for about twenty minutes, while the press conducted interviews with the two conscious men. Not one of the pressmen present lifted a finger to try and help the men, even thought Wolfaardt and Uys requested them to do so many times.
(This was in sharp contrast to another scene, also in Mmbabatho, where journalists had given first aid to wounded Black civilians).
Then, still in full view of the cameras, a Bophuthatswana policeman, armed with a R4 automatic rifle, ran up to where the wounded men were lying and gunned them down in cold blood. It was this cold blooded execution, far away from where the actual fire fights had taken place, which was misrepresented by the local and international media as the AWB forces being "defeated" in Bophuthatswana. This myth has persisted, even though it is palpably untrue.
AWB Men are Gunned Down in Cold Blood by a Black Policeman, Bophuthatswana, 1994.
Above and below: AWB Colonel Alwyn Wolfaardt raises his hand as Veldkornet (Field Cornet) Fanie Uys slumps out of the rear door, over the body of the critically wounded AWB General Nick Fourie. All three had been caught in an ambush set up by ANC supporters in Bophuthatswana.
Below: Ontlametse Menyatsoe, a Bophuthatswana policeman, opens fire and murders the critically wounded and unarmed AWB men as they lay prostrate on the ground. Menyatsoe was later given amnesty for these murders by the politically biased "Truth and Reconciliation" Commission set up by the ANC government.
The BKA unit then withdrew later that day, also running into several ambushes along the way. A little known fact is that a further two AWB men who were with that unit, including another Field Cornet Francois Janse van Rensburg, were killed during the AVF withdrawal. Several others were wounded during further ambushes on the BKA convoy.
Journalists and ANC aligned spokesman later alleged that AWB men had shortly after the murder of the three men, gone on a shooting spree in Bophuthatswana, shooting looters and Black passers-by alike. Although it was never finally proven who had shot the civilians, at least 60 died, either in cross fire or as combatants in one way or another - this being in addition to the 50 soldiers allegedly killed by the AWB contingent in earlier fire fights.
There is however no evidence to indicate that the AWB force did go about randomly shooting Black civilians - and indeed several instances have been recorded where AWB men actually saved Black civilians who were serving Bophuthatswana government officials, from being killed by mobs of ANC supporters.
One of the most notable of such actions was undertaken by AWB General Roelf Jordaan from Ladybrand. While he and his hastily mobilised force were outside Mmbabatho on their way to the air force base, they were flagged down by a Black civilian, who turned out to be the Bophuthatswana Minister of Agriculture. He informed Jordaan and his men that an ANC mob had attacked his house, setting it on fire. He and his wife had managed to flee, but his 15 year old son had been lost in the chaos. He had however later been able to track his son down by telephone.
His son had informed him that he was sheltering in a house several kilometres away and that an ANC mob was busy searching all the houses, and would soon reach the one in which he was hiding.
Jordaan and AWB brigadier Leon van Deventer from the AWB's Kalahari Wenkommando then put together a small force of AWB men in five pick ups and raced to the house where the youth was hiding. By a combination of stealth and bravado, they managed to take the youth away from under the noses of the rioting ANC mob. They returned the youth to his relieved parents and then proceeded on to the air force base - an example of where some AWB men actually put their lives at risk for Black civilians. Incidents such as these do not support the media generated image of rampaging AWB men shooting at all and sundry.
On a military level, the operation was not a success, but the fault for this was the failure on the part of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force to provide the necessary logistical support and armoured personnel carriers as had been promised, and for the fact that a large number of army units switched support to the ANC backed uprising before the right wingers arrived in the country.
However, the portrayal of the operation as the "AWB being routed" is also not true - the facts were that the AWB went in and then left again after encountering a hostile reception from the BKA section in Mmbabatho. The AWB forces did not leave after being "defeated" by the Bophuthatswana army, as the media alleged, and in fact in the few incidents where fire fights took place, the casualty figures show that the AWB force acquitted themselves well in the face of far superior firepower.
The interesting contradiction raised by Terre'Blanche - why would Viljoen, who was going to take part in the election, want to help Mangope, who did not want to take part in the election, can only be explained by the intention of the Bophuthatswana government to hold a full sitting of its parliament the week following its downfall. This session of the Bophuthatswana parliament would have in all likelihood have reversed the decision to stay out of the elections, and Mangope and his supporters would have then been able to enter the election in their own right.
Viljoen was in all likelihood aware of this, and his motivation in going in try and stabilise Mangope was to enable him to take part in the election. The AWB of course went in to Bophuthatswana with the intention of stabilising Mangope - but intending to keep him out of the election. The AWB's presence in the homeland must have then come as an unwelcome surprise for the Viljoen faction.