Can South Africa leaders cool racial tensions after killing of white supremacist?

South Africa leaders are racing to allay concerns about security during the World Cup in June as details of Sunday's killing of white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche grab headlines worldwide.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema, left, from South Africa meets with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during his visit to neighboring Zimbabwe Monday. Followers of South Africa's slain white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche said Sunday, they blame Malema for spreading hate that led to his killing, amid growing racial tensions in the once white-led South Africa. Malema denied responsibility during an official visit to neighboring Zimbabwe.

South Africa leaders are stepping up attempts to calm racial tensions in the wake the brutal killing of far-right white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche on Sunday.

Police have described the killing of Mr. Terreblanche as a tragic end to a wage dispute with two black farm workers, but members of Terreblanche's far-right Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) party have called it "a declaration of war" by blacks against whites.

And as details of the killing heighten concerns about security during the World Cup in June, AWB Secretary-General Andre Visagie warned countries against sending their soccer teams to "a land of murder."

South Africa officials, meanwhile, are urging people to resist racial incitement and insisting that the killing has no bearing on security ahead of the World Cup.

"I can say that with the plans we have put in place, with our tough stance in the fight against crime, we are starting to see the results," police minister Nathi Mthetwa said. "There will be no person who commits a crime in South Africa and kill people or a person, and get away scot-free without the full might of the law."

'Kill the Boer'

Always lurking beneath the surface in South Africa, race has been moved to the front burner again 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.

But several political parties, farm unions, human rights groups, and individuals have warned that Mr. Malema's recent performances of the song at rallies are stirring up old racial grudges. And they say that the killing of Terreblanche does not come as a surprise.

Johannes Möller, president of Agri SA, who represents South Africa's biggest commercial farmers union, says that the white Afrikaaners would not retaliate for the "barbaric killing."

"We are not going to [seek] revenge, but we see this killing as a politically motivated farm murder," says Möller. "Terreblanche was a prominent commercial farmer, and this is a huge blow to the commercial farming industry. May I also take this opportunity to appeal to all political parties in the country, especially the ruling African National Congress (ANC), to ensure that its people refrain from inflammatory political statements."

Passions running high

Democratic Alliance (DA) President, Helen Zille, says that the murder of Terreblanche would inevitably polarize and inflame passions in South Africa at a time when tensions were already running high.

"This could have tragic consequences and it is essential that all leaders stand together now, and call for calm," says Ms. Zille. "Violence has never been a solution to South Africa’s enormous challenges. Now, more than ever, we must resist racial polarization, and continue to build the non-racial middle ground of people who want a peaceful and prosperous future for all."

She said the singing of songs such as “Kill the Boer” by Mr. Malema created a climate in which violence is seen as an appropriate response to problems, whether personal or collective.

"These words have been correctly described by the courts as hate speech," says Zille. "We urge all South Africans to stand together and reject incitement and threats of violence, that could destroy our capacity to build a shared future," she added.

Playing politics

ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, challenged other political parties not to use the murder of Terreblanch for political mileage.

"We condemn this killing in the strongest terms, because no person deserves to be killed regardless of the reasons that could be advanced in justification of the murder," said Mr. Mthembu. "The ANC views this as a matter to be handled by our law enforcement authorities. We call on all South Africans and all political parties not use Eugene Terreblanche death to polarize our nation."

He said the ANC was appealing to all South Africans to refrain from making speculative pronouncements on Terreblanche murder, pointing out that the alleged killers have handed themselves in to the law enforcement authorities.

Handle with care

"Racism is still much alive in South Africa, and this matter must be handled with care, otherwise racism has a potential of causing bloodshed...." said Temmi Pretoria of the South African Institute of Race Relations representative. "Already the country's image has been battered, and it has to be corrected now."

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