Interracial tensions and concerns over crime are once again in the South African spotlight after the Saturday murder of a fringe far-right leader who championed a separate homeland for his fellow white Afrikaners and as the nation gears up to host the World Cup.
The bloodied body of 69-year-old Eugene Terre’blanche (pictured, right), leader of the Afrikaans Resistance Movement (AWB), was found in a bed on his farm after having sustained severe head and facial injuries, some of which apparently the result of a machete. Two of Terre’blanche’s farm workers, a man and a teenage boy, have been arrested in connection with the attack. The suspects said a confrontation ensued after Terre’blanche refused to pay them their monthly salary of 300 Rand (€30 or $41), according to local media reports.
The high-profile murder comes at a time when South Africa was hoping to ally fears of the country’s notorious crime problem ahead of welcoming an international audience for the 2010 football World Cup from June 11 to July 11. South Africa’s daily average of 50 murders makes it one of the most crime-ridden nations in the world.
President Jacob Zuma appealed for calm on Sunday, calling the crime a “terrible deed” and urging his compatriots “not to allow agents provocateurs to take advantage of this situation by inciting or fuelling racial hatred”.
Terre’blanche’s AWB movement, which was behind a series of deadly bomb blasts ahead of the country’s first interracial vote in 1994, initially announced it would discuss plans for retaliation at a May 1 meeting but has since said it had no plans to exact revenge.
The AWB leader had lived a relatively anonymous life since his 2004 release after serving a prison sentence for severely beating a black labourer.
No boost for the right
Despite the racial strains that exist in South Africa’s still-divided society, most observers say the right is unlikely to be able to galvanise any widespread reaction to the murder along racial sympathies.
“There is no real risk of further violence,” said Caroline Dumay, FRANCE 24’s South Africa correspondent, noting that Terre’blanche’s AWB appealed only to a very small minority of Afrikaners, even among the right wing.
“Nobody really took Terre’blanche seriously,” she said.
Moreover, Dumay says it is unlikely the young suspects had a racial component at all. “The two suspected murders, aged 15 and 21 years old, never knew the apartheid regime,” she pointed out. “Their motivation was not political.”
Political parties on the right are also unlikely to be able to capitalise on Terre’blanche’s death, said political analyst Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa. “The right-wing movement in general is very fragmented,” Kotze told AFP. “We cannot expect something as a general retaliation in terms of big, major events,” he said, while noting that “isolated, singular events” were still a possibility.
But new damage to South Africa’s reputation may have already been done. “With the approach of the World Cup, the South African authorities fear that this business has tarnished the image of the country,” said Dumay.
While almost 450,000 football supporters are normally expected for the World Cup championship, officials fear concern over South Africa's crime rate may bring that number down to 150,000.
‘Kill the farmer’
Dumay says what is more likely to stoke South African racial tensions these days is a resurgence in popularity of anti-apartheid fight songs, notably one repeatedly used by a youth leader in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, Julius Malema.
Activists in Terre’blanche's AWB group have already said his killing could be linked to some of the song’s controversial lyrics, particularly its refrain of “kill the boer”, the Afrikaans word for farmer. The words have been criticised for condoning violence against whites, who own and run most of South Africa’s farms. The use of the refrain as a slogan was banned in two recent court rulings.
The ANC defends
the use of the song, saying it is simply reminiscent of the liberation struggle of the black South African majority against dominance by the 10 percent white minority and is not a call for violence.
Terre’blanche is scheduled to be buried on Friday at noon, at a church in the town of Ventersdorp where he had his farm. The two suspects in This murder are due to appear in court on Tuesday.