South Africans face off at Terreblanche trial

A South African court on Tuesday charged two men with the murder of white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche. Outside the courtroom, whites and blacks faced off from across a police line.

Jerome Delay/AP
Black residents sing the South African national anthem in response to followers of slain Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terreblanche singing the old anthem as they gather outside the courthouse in Ventersdrop, South Africa, Tuesday, as two men appeared in court accused of killing Terreblanche.
Jerome Delay/AP
Followers of slain Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terreblanche scuffle with police outside the courthouse in Ventersdrop, South Africa, Tuesday, as two men appeared in court accused of killing Terreblanche.

White and black protesters faced each other across barbed wire and police lines as two men appeared in court Tuesday accused of killing far-right white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche.

In a throwback to the apartheid era, members of Terreblanche’s Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) party flew old South Africa flags, sang the old national anthem, and threw abuse at black people who stood outside the Ventersdorp Magistrates Court to support the pair.

Inside the court, a 28-year-old farm laborer and 15-year-old casual worker were charged with theft, unlawful entry, and killing Terreblanche, 69, who was found Saturday bludgeoned to death in his bed at his farm house near Ventersdorp in North West province. Unconfirmed reports say the pair were annoyed he had not paid them monthly wages of R300 each ($41).

No media were allowed into the courtroom because one defendant is a minor. The case was postponed until April 14, when the defense will apply for bail for the suspects who remain in custody. No pleas were entered.

Outside, police helicopters hovered over the estimated 500-strong crowd with the black contingent responding to the taunts by singing the new South African anthem Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica.

Tensions up ahead of World Cup

Saturday’s murder has reignited the racial debate in South Africa and highlighted ongoing violence against white farmers, which some estimates put at 3,000 since the first multi-racial elections in 1994.

It has also put pressure on President Jacob Zuma to rein in the outspoken leader of the African National Congress’s youth league, Julius Malema, who caused controversy last month by singing an anti-apartheid song with the lyrics ‘kill the Boer, kill the farmer’ – Boer being another name for the Afrikaner, the main architects of apartheid.

Two weeks ago, Johannesburg’s South Gauteng High Court ruled that the song violates hate-speech laws, prompting an appeal from the ANC on the grounds that the song was an important part of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Saturday’s murder also heightened political tensions in South Africa, with some officials fearful it will have a knock-on effect on already lower-than-expected visitor numbers for the soccer World Cup starting in June.

“People already see South Africa as a dangerous country and this won’t help the 2010 soccer World Cup. People sitting in their homes abroad will be saying ‘I’m not going there, it is too violent,' ” says Pieter Groenewald, the police spokesman and parliamentary leader for the predominantly Afrikaner Freedom Front Plus party, which has urged Mr. Zuma to condemn the controversial anti-apartheid song.

“He must tackle [youth league leader] Malema and stop his arrogance because this is undermining the fight for law and order. The danger is that killings like this inflame violence and undermine the police," Mr. Groenewald says.

Divided public opinion

In Cape Town, like the rest of South Africa, Terreblanche’s murder has divided opinion.

Cynthia Nteyi from the Khayelitsha township, says she was saddened by the death but did not think it would have wider implications for South Africa. “I was shocked by his death, I did not want him killed. But he is from the past and not the present. He was someone from a different age before our democracy in 1994.”

Hannes Thiart from the town of Philadelphia north of Cape Town, says Terreblanche's death offered a catalyst for extreme right-wingers to justify their opposition to post-apartheid South Africa.

“This has nothing to do with Malema’s song, it was about a farmer not paying his workers. I’ve seen it time and time again: the farmer in a big house and Mercedes outside employing virtual slave labor and then refusing to pay wages. I’d get angry if I was sitting in some shack and that happened to me."

“Afrikaners just never forget – they’re still angry about the Boer War," says Mr. Thiart. "But the AWB and Terreblanche are in a minority and don’t hold any power in modern-day South Africa.”

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