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ONCE-MENACING AWB GROUP IS NOW AN `ANGRY WHITE BLUFF'

Diehard believers in a white-ruled state still gather at Nazi-style rallies, wearing uniforms and hol-stered handguns to show the fight is not over.

"We are South Africans," Eugene TerreBlanche recently told cheering militants of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement he leads. "They cannot rule this country without us."But "they" - blacks - are doing so. And despite years of threats to fight black rule to the bitter end, "commandos" of TerreBlanche's group put up little real resistance last year as the African National Congress coasted toward victory.

A bombing ring was quickly dismantled by police after three lethal blasts as the April 1994 election began, proving informers riddled the group, known by its Afrikaans language initials, AWB. Beer-bellied gunmen shooting unarmed civilians in a black homeland turned tail when police shot three of the whites dead.

Nowadays, the AWB seems an Angry White Bluff. Meetings that once drew 5,000 people now muster 900. Members grumble that President Nelson Mandela refuses to outlaw the group - as his ANC was once banned - to deny it romantic recruitment appeal.

Worse, in their eyes, is that most whites accept Mandela's government. That horrifies people like the young mother at an AWB rally who defended apartheid by citing the Bible as saying sheep and goats cannot mingle.

White acceptance of black rule could erode if the conciliatory course by Mandela ever turns hostile to whites, particularly working-class Afrikaners who form the pool of right-wing support.

Already since the new government took over, many Afrikaners have been unsettled by the prospect of affirmative action policies to favor blacks, diminished use of the Afrikaans language by broadcasters and mandatory school integration.

Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch and French settlers who began arriving in the 17th century, account for about 3 million of the country's 5 million whites. Whites altogether are 13 percent of the country's 40 million people, and blacks 75 percent, with the rest mixed-race or Asian.

Having lost power over the country as a whole, TerreBlanche and more moderate right-wingers like Ferdi Hartzenberg of the Conservative Party demand a piece of it in the form of a smaller, white-ruled state.

But the government shows little interest in talks, and the right-wing is divided between those like the Conservatives and AWB who remain outside the system and those the rightists brand as traitors working within it.

Chief among the latter is former Gen. Constand Viljoen, who broke an election boycott pact last year and led his Freedom Front to the polls.