South Africa leaders urge calm after killing of white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche
The bludgeoning death of South Africa's top white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche was called a 'declaration of war' by members of his far-right group, but the nation's leaders are calling for calm.
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In death as in life, Mr. Terreblanche has left a political firestorm in his path.
Terreblanche became famous for vowing to create a white homeland where the country’s white minority could maintain the racist governmental system of apartheid, and Andre Visagie, a top member of Terreblanche's far-right Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) movement, called the killing "a declaration of war" by blacks against whites.
South African president Jacob Zuma, meanwhile, called on South Africans to remain calm.
"The president appeals for calm,” Mr. Zuma’s office said in a statement on Sunday, “and asks South Africans not to allow agent provocateurs to take advantage of this situation by inciting or fueling racial hatred.”
Race back on the front burner
Race has been very much on the minds of South Africans in recent weeks, as the country’s high court ordered a leader in the ruling African National Congress party’s Youth League, the outspoken Julius Malema, to stop singing a liberation-era song called “Kill the Boer” at his political rallies.
Boer is a Dutch word for farmers, and was long considered to be synonymous with all whites. Yet police say that there is no indication that the murder of Terreblanche at his farm in the Northwest Province is anything more than an isolated case of murder of a white farmer by his employees over a wage dispute.
A radical minority
Terreblanche is known to have strongly racist views, and in the waning days of the apartheid regime he was only able to gather around him a small but radical group of disaffected Afrikaners who seemed ready to resist majority black rule with arms, if necessary. But his influence swiftly waned after apartheid fell.
His last major appearance in the headlines was a conviction in 2001 for attempted murder of a farm worker, for which he served three years in jail.
Government under fire
Opposition parties are using the murder as a chance to criticize the government for its handling of the country’s high crime rate, and even to suggest that white South Africans in general were living under threat.
The Democratic Alliance – which is multiracial but strongest in the Western Cape – refrained from naming any politician specifically, but said that “irresponsible racist utterances” had increased tensions in rural areas like the one where Terreblanche was murdered.
“To me, it’s irresponsible to use this case to suggest that white South Africans are under siege,” says Steven Friedman, a political scientist and director of the Institute for Democracy and Governance at the University of Johannesburg. “As a political figure, Terreblanche was washed up, he wasn’t effective anymore. As a political event, this is not of great consequence. For opposition parties, if you’re going to choose a symbol with whom people can identify, this man is not an appropriate symbol.”