“I’m impaled on the blue flames of his blowtorch eyes, you see.” The day Jani Allan got face to face with Eugene Terre’blanche

Photograph by Antonia Steyn

Jani Allan was a South African journalist who was perhaps best-known for her weekly profile column, “Face to Face”.

It appeared in the Sunday Times, and was one of the paper’s biggest love-it-or-loathe-it selling points.

This was her most famous and controversial column. It appeared in the Sunday Times on January 31, 1988. Which, by sheer coincidence, was Eugene Terre’blanche’s birthday.

Face to Face with Eugene Terre’Blanche

By Jani Allan


Eugene Terre’blanche doesn’t walk into a room: he takes occupation of it.

Things shrink. The roomscape insiduously rearranges itself so that he becomes the focal point.

Look – the man’s no mimsy. To be honest, he’s a hunk. Far more attractive face to face than his telegenic image.

He tourniquets my hand briefly, offers me a Lexington and a cup of tea and asks whether I mind if he speaks in Afrikaans. His manners are impeccable. He uses “U” a lot.

He’ll have coffee because “ek is maar net ‘n boer”, but sans milk or coffee because, intones the burly Ventersdorp farmer, “as long as there are hungry children in my land I won’t have sugar or milk and I don’t eat pudding”.

He lights my cigarette with a hand that resembles a hessian bag filled with sand.

Up at dawn, he drove from the farm to be in the office at eight. Now, 12 hours later, his khakis hardly creased, his composure is still as cool as a slice of melktert.

Uh. Where is the crazed political threshing-machine?

Could it be that people have the wrong…uh…image of him?

“I KNOW so. For example, I realise that whatever you write about me your editor will probably not even print.”

It’s a rich, earth-brown voice. Sometimes it has the loamy texture of a newly ploughed mealie field.

Sometimes it’s a caress of worn corduroy.

Sometimes it’s a rush of gravel-rash. Sometimes the syllables fall like clods on a coffin.

You’d have to be dead not to be impressed by his sincerity. But then, didn’t Oscar Wilde say, “The worst vice of the fanatic is his sincerity.”

I’ll have to think about that. Later. Right now, I’ve got to remind myself to breathe.

I’m implaced on the blue flames of his blowtorch eyes, you see.


*Footnote: The media have always had a lot of trouble with Eugene Terre’blanche, particularly regarding the spelling of his name. It has variously been spelled Terre’Blanche, Terreblanche, TerreBlanche, and Terre’blanche, often followed by a helpful note that it means “white earth”. This column by Jani Allan uses the “Terre’blanche” spelling. Which was correct? We’ll probably never know.


4 comments on ““I’m impaled on the blue flames of his blowtorch eyes, you see.” The day Jani Allan got face to face with Eugene Terre’blanche

  1. Is this not the very same Jani Allen who had a raucous affair with ET? Hardly an objective observer. But it seems the man was, indeed, human. Which is something. G-d help us all.

  2. For all her faults, Jani hits the spot quoting Wilde: “The worst vice of the fanatic is his sincerity.”

  3. Yes, it was the same Jani…and she did have a way with quoting the classics. I think she’s based in the USA now.

  4. She’s a very educated woman, I believe she was an English literature and Art teacher at some of South Africa’s leading schools prior to becoming a journo.Her editor compared her style to that of Tom Woolfe and his brand of ‘new journalism’. South Africa would be hard-pressed to find a columnist that expressed such flair in their writings.

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