The government and its security apparatus have clearly miscalculated the seriousness of the threat posed by white right wing militants. They made the same mistake as most South Africans: thinking that most of these radicals are corpulent brandy-and-coke clowns in khaki; that after the Bophuthatswana fiasco of early 1994 and after the jailing of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader Eugene Terre'Blanche, there was nothing to fear.

In fact, the well-remembered scene of four AWB men being shot like dogs next to their car on a Bophuthatswana road did signal the end to that kind of violent threat. But we forget that at that very same occasion, when Lucas Mangope's homeland government came under severe pressure, there were three thousand disciplined, organised white men under the command of former SADF chief General Constand Viljoen at the homeland's airport. In the end they went home without any action because the AWB muddled up the operation.

These men were members of a much greater force that Viljoen and his "directorate of generals" had mobilised clandestinely in 1993 because they felt that former state president FW de Klerk was selling out the Afrikaner.

Viljoen told me in an interview in 2001 that he had mobilised a countrywide force of former soldiers, commando members and farmers.

"We had a tight, disciplined military organisation of trusted men. I was assured that I could mobilise up to 50 000 men if we had to - I had agreements with selected defence force units who would come over to my side to provide armoured back-up if we needed it."

Towards the end of 1993 and early 1994, Viljoen's men committed limited acts of sabotage to warn the negotiators of the ANC and the government to take them seriously. But in the end, they did not mobilise.

Instead, they signed a special deal brokered by Viljoen's twin brother, theologian Abraham Viljoen, businessman Jurgen Kogl, and the ANC's Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. This led to Viljoen's participation in the 1994 elections.

But it is among the thousands of Viljoen followers of 1993 that the present right wing danger now lies. Among the most dangerous elements are highly trained former members of the SA Defence Force and "sleepers" still working for the new SANDF.

They are organised in countrywide cells by an organisation called the Boeremag. Fourteen of their leaders are currently in jail. Large arms caches which were uncovered were alleged to belong to them.

There is another tiny group of right wing fanatics, mostly organised around bizarre religious sects like the Israel Vision, who believe black people are sub-human. They are truly on the lunatic fringe, but theoretically at least there is the possibility that some of them could get involved with a group such as the Boeremag.

Why do we have a right wing resurgence now? It might have escaped an overconfident ANC government, but there is a substantial and growing feeling of alienation felt by many whites, especially Afrikaners.

They feel their language rights are being disregarded, especially with moves to downscale Afrikaans in courts, the police, the military, the prisons and the public service. There are also fears that there will soon be no universities with a mostly Afrikaans character.

Conservative communities believe the government does not care enough about the large numbers of murders of white farmers. They fear that the government's softly-softly approach towards the land-grabbing and mistreatment of white farmers in Zimbabwe means that the same could one day happen in South Africa.

Affirmative action and black empowerment make them feel that under the present regime there is no future for their children.

They feel despondent, fearful and believe that their room to manoeuvre as a cultural minority has diminished substantially. Their enthusiasm for the new South Africa started waning when the more assertive Africanist Thabo Mbeki, with much less appetite for reassuring whites, took over the presidency from Nelson Mandela.

These beliefs are widely held in the Afrikaner community, but only a tiny minority feel strongly enough about it to engage in resistance. An important question is how likely they are to enjoy public support - in other words, will they be protected and helped by ordinary people, or will they be turned in?

My feeling is that their support will be very isolated. Afrikaners may feel alienated, unhappy and threatened, but the vast majority are not desperate or angry enough to support violence, sabotage or the killing of civilians.

We know already that the men in jail for allegedly planning a coup were betrayed by a fellow Afrikaner. The worst reaction to the latest bombings would be for the Afrikaners and whites to be demonised as a group. I think it is safe to say most of them feel outraged and angry that this kind of terrorism is emerging again. This is not Chechnya.

The government will need the white community to report these right wing elements, because the National Intelligence Agency and the security police are hopelessly inadequate and in disarray. The white members with the experience and inside knowledge of the right wing who could infiltrate them have been shafted or left the service.

This is not the beginning of a new racial war. It is more like the violent campaign waged by Pagad in the Cape Peninsula.

It can be stopped by vigilance, good intelligence and good police work. But perhaps a new sensitivity about what motivates these militants would also be in order.