A South African white supremacist leader was bludgeoned to death by two of his farm workers in an apparent wage dispute, police said, but his followers today blamed a fiery youth leader for a “hate speech” which they claim led to his killing.
Eugene Terreblanche’s violent death on Saturday came amid growing racial tensions in the once white-led country and underscored an ongoing controversy over African National Congress Youth Leader Julius Malema’s performance last month of an apartheid-era song that advocates the killing of white farmers.
Terreblanche, 69, was leader of the white supremacist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement, better known as the AWB, that wanted to create three all-white republics within South Africa in which blacks would be allowed only as guest workers.
Andre Nienaber, a member of the group and a relative of Terreblanche, said he believed his death was “as a result of Mr Malema’s hate speech and direct orders in the media to ’shoot the Boers dead”’.
Boer means white farmers in Afrikaans, the language of descendants of early Dutch settlers, or Afrikaners.
Mr Malema is often in the news for his fiery rhetoric. Last month, he led college students in belting out a song that includes the lyrics “shoot the Boer”. Mr Malema did not mention Terreblanche or any other person in his performance.
The song has sparked a legal battle in which the ruling ANC party has challenged a high court which ruled the lyrics were unconstitutional. The ANC insists the song is a valuable part of its cultural heritage and that the lyrics - which also refer to the farmers as thieves and rapists – are not intended literally and are therefore not hate speech.
An unknown number of white farmers – possibly scores – have been killed since 1994, many of them in land disputes. Some critics blame the government’s badly organised land reform programme and allege that corruption is a problem.
A leading Afrikaner lobby group, AfriForum, claimed that since Mr Malema sang the song in public, there has been a rise in killings of white farmers, with four killed in the previous week. The group could not prove a connection between the song and the killings.
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa appealed for calm and asked the public not to make assumptions about the crime.
“We call on all South Africans, across whatever divide ... to desist from making any inflammatory statements which are not going to help in any way on the case we are dealing with,” said Mr Mthethwa, who visited the crime scene and later spoke to a room full of journalists and AWB members.
“Nobody should obstruct us by what he or she says pertaining to this case. We want to get to the bottom of this case and we want nobody to obstruct the police in getting justice.”
Mr Malema arrived in neighbouring Zimbabwe on Saturday and could not be reached immediately for comment today. But on Saturday, at a youth rally in the capital of Harare, he defended his decision to sing the song.
“We are not being allowed to sing liberation songs in South Africa, but we are not going to stop,” he said. “We are prepared to go to jail and get arrested again. This is the court ruling of the white men in South Africa, but we are not going to obey it.”
Relatives and friends of Terreblanche gathered near his homestead this morning to pay their respects. They gathered in front of a house with an ox wagon parked on the front lawn, a symbol of South Africa’s white settlers. Terreblanche’s family and the AWB invited the press into one of their homes to hear a brief statement. But later, as journalists outside the house tried to interview people who came to commiserate with the family, several AWB members carrying pistols in hip holsters threatened the press and ordered them to leave immediately.
The opposition Democratic Alliance party blamed increasing racial tensions for the killing.
“This happened in a province where racial tension in the rural farming community is increasingly being fuelled by irresponsible racist utterances” by two members of the governing African National Congress, said the Democratic Alliance legislator for that constituency, Juanita Terblanche.
Ms Terblanche, no relative of the far-right leader, said her party did not share his political convictions but warned that the attack on him could be seen as an attack on the diverse components of South Africa’s democracy.
President Jacob Zuma appealed for calm following “this terrible deed”. In a statement, he asked South Africans “not to allow agent provocateurs to take advantage of this situation by inciting or fuelling racial hatred”.
The killing comes 10 weeks before South Africa prepares to host the first World Cup football tournament on African soil, with massive expenditure on infrastructure being questioned as hundreds of thousands of tickets and hotel rooms remain unsold.
The South African Press Association quoted police spokeswoman Adele Myburgh as saying that Terreblanche was attacked by a 21-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy who worked for him on his farm outside Ventersdorp, about 68 miles north-west of Johannesburg.
Ms Myburgh said the alleged attackers have been arrested and charged with murder. She said the two, whom she did not identify by name, told the police that there had been a dispute because they were not paid for work they had done on the farm.
“Mr Terreblanche’s body was found on the bed with facial and head injuries.” She said a machete was found on his body and a knobkerrie – a wooden staff with a rounded head – next to his bed.
Terreblanche’s brother Andries Terreblanche urged reporters on Sunday to appear at the suspect’s first court appearance, scheduled for Tuesday.
“Everyone must come to court to hear what is the truth,” he said. “It isn’t about wages.”
Mr Terreblanche and other AWB members later clashed with police as they tried to enter a press conference at the mayor’s office. Police refused to let several men enter with their pistols and stopped a woman who attempted to enter the building with a switchblade.
Terreblanche had threatened war on South Africa’s white minority government in the 1980s when it began to make what he considered dangerous concessions to blacks that endangered the survival of South Africa’s white race.
A symbol of white resistance to democratic black majority rule, he had lived in relative obscurity in recent years but had not changed his views.
He revived the AWB in 2008 and had rallies that drew growing crowds whom he wooed with his declaration that white South Africans are entitled to create their own country, a fight he declared he would take to the International Court at The Hague.
Terreblanche’s killing comes amid growing disenchantment among blacks for whom the right to vote has not translated into jobs and better housing and education.
Some consider themselves betrayed by leaders governing the richest country on the continent and pursuing a policy of black empowerment that has made millionaires of a tiny black elite while millions remain trapped in poverty, even as whites continue to enjoy a privileged lifestyle.
Terreblanche recently has made statements highlighting the corruption that has ballooned under the black government.
“Our country is being run by criminals who murder and rob ... We are being oppressed again. We will rise again,” he said, referring to concentration-camp conditions that killed thousands during the Boer War fought by British colonisers.
Terreblanche launched his political career in 1973 amid growing opposition to the white minority government and its racist policies, forming the AWB with six other “patriots” of the Afrikaans-speaking whites descended from Dutch immigrants.
The AWB was a semi-secret organisation for years. When it “came out” in 1979, the movement displayed its Nazi-like insignia and declared opposition to any parliamentary democracy.
Terreblanche would arrive at meetings on horseback flanked by masked bodyguards dressed in khaki or black and became a charismatic leader for a small minority that could not envision a South Africa under the democratic rule of a black majority.
At one rally his guards, who terrorised blacks and were dubbed “storm troopers” after the Nazis, brandished guns, police batons and knives, prompting the government to announce it was “looking into” the actions and attitudes of the movement.
In 1983, Terreblanche was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail sentence for illegal arms possession, though he said the arms were planted by black opponents. The same year, two AWB militants were jailed for 15 years for conspiring to overthrow the government and assassinate black leaders.
Terreblanche was finally jailed in 1997, sentenced to six years for the attempted murder of a black security guard and assaulting a black gas station worker.
He became a born-again Christian in prison, and declared on his release in 2004 that his experience had convinced him that “the real hour to revive the resistance had arrived”.
Terreblanche had threatened to take the country by force if the white government capitulated to the ANC. After the white government conceded, the ANC overwhelmingly won 1994 elections and has won every election since with more than 60% of votes.