By MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Friday, April 29, 1994
RUSTENBURG—I was not afraid. I wanted to see them when they attacked me.
“Kaffir, you have to leave; you are not wanted here,” one said.
“Kaffir” is South Africa’s ugliest racial epithet, like its U.S. equivalent, “nigger.”
“Wait a minute, you invited us,” I said.
The first punch landed on my neck. Another kicked me on the left hip. One man grabbed me in a strangle-hold. I wriggled free and stretched out my arms to ward off blows as arms from everywhere grabbed at and punch me and people yelled words at me in Afrikaans.
I just thought, “Wow, what the hell is going on here?”
I was angry as hell but I was not afraid. I thought “How could these people be so undisciplined, how could they be this stupid.”
I never considered the possibility of not getting out alive.
My first instinct was to fight back, but that would make me a participant, and I didn’t want to be that.
I was thinking that I came here to cover a story and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stay to do my job.
Then, a short, middle-aged woman, with reddish hair, came up, punched me in the nose and drew blood.
One man, the voice of reason in this mad horde, told me as I was being thrown out of the gate: “Leave, you don’t want to get killed here.”
I knew coming here that the story of South Africa is mostly about fear, about hate. I just never thought I would be drawn into the story.
My colleague Gene Mustain and I have covered the bombings, all the murders that have led to this historic election. This was just another story to cover.
As a news gatherer, I never bargained on becoming a newsmaker.
Yesterday, I was dragged across the line.
Yesterday, I went to a rally of the Afrikaner Weerstand Beweeging—AWB, for short—the right wing group that has been terrorizing this nation’s hopeful season.
Nothing in my experience here so far prepared me for my encounter with the Afrikaner Resistance Movement.
I am aware of the group’s rabid hatred of blacks and reporters. I knew that three months ago they chased a black reporter out of one of their rallies.
However, I received a message on my pager two days ago that told me of yesterday’s rally. “All press welcomed,” the message concluded.
It didn’t say, “White reporters only.”
No sooner did I arrive with Gene and our two black interpreters than I heard something said to me in Afrikaans.
“I’m giving you instruction to go tell Mandela and de Klerk to go f— themselves,” he said to me. “Ok? Ok?”
Not knowing what he was saying at the time, I ignored him. A few minutes later, a man with a bullhorn called “Dominick.”
“There is something terribly ugly behind you,” he warned Dominick, meaning me. “Don’t get a fright when you look over your shoulder.”
I stood upfront, among a horde of reporters. Print photographers were crouched in front of me and television camera operators lined up behind me.
I noticed a man to my left in street-clothes with a gun around his waist. He seemed agitated by my presence and was talking to one of his uniformed friends as he gestured frantically in my direction. I noticed suddenly that the TV cameras were no longer behind me.
In their place were about six men. They had on their brown camouflage uniform and their black masks. They were also holding automatic rifles and shotguns. The world seemed such a small place all of a sudden. I cast wary glances about me.
It was then that they attacked with fists, knees and a nightstick and ejected me from their rally.
Maybe I should have expected something like this to happen but it honestly never entered my mind.
Race was never an issue for me. I was born in a fishing village in Accra, Ghana, and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria’s mean streets.
When in the second half of my life, spent in the U.S., race became an issue, I decided to ignore it and live simply as a person, as a human being.
But in South Africa yesterday, I found it difficult to ignore my race. My attackers found it impossible.