South Africa braces for verdict on murder of far right leader

Afrikaners plan to protest as court delivers verdict tomorrow on two black men accused of murdering white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche. Is this the end of the Rainbow Nation?

A judge will announce today his verdict in the trial of two black South Africans accused of beating their employer, the white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche, to death at his remote farm in the country’s North West Province.

There are fears that the conclusion of the case could reignite simmering racial tensions just as the murder itself did shortly before South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup in June 2010.

At that time, lurid headlines screamed “Murder Could Spark World Cup Race War,” “We’ll Avenge Terreblanche Vow White Fanatics,” and “Dark Clouds Over The Rainbow Nation” - the moniker adopted by South Africa after apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994.

In the end, the sporting event passed without incident. But anger over the ruling African National Congress’ failure to markedly improve life for blacks and whites, and a habit left over from apartheid of blaming each other for the country’s ills, remains.

Terreblanche became famous in the 1980s for his fire-breathing speeches advocating a separate Boer nation. In death, he joined an estimated 3,000 white farmers and their families beaten, tortured, and killed since 1994, mainly by black intruders in raids on their remote homesteads.

South Africa’s crime problem is notorious and many more black people have been killed in that time, but the far right say the brutality of the murders suggest a “genocide” that the state is doing little to prevent.

Underage defendant

During the trial, defendant Chris Mahlangu claimed Terreblanche had sexually assaulted him and he had killed him in self-defence.

The second defendant, who was aged 16 at the time and so cannot be named, is said to have confessed his role in the alleged murder to police.

But Norman Arendse, the teenager’s lawyer, said he is “hopeful and fairly optimistic” that his client will be acquitted at court Tuesday in Ventersdorp, a dusty town almost 90 miles west of Johannesburg.

There is no forensic evidence linking him to the scene, although Mr. Mahlangu was covered in blood spatters, and because of his age the judge ruled that the teenage defendant's confession could not be used against him.

“He lived and worked at the farm so we don’t deny he was nearby but he was not involved,” Mr. Arendse said. “Mr. Terreblanche had plied him with strong cider earlier that day and that explains his bravado when talking to the police.”

Doubts about justice system

If the teenager is acquitted, Terreblanche’s supporters say, it will prove that the justice system – like everything else in South Africa, they say – is against them and they will unleash “havoc.”

Andre Visagie, the former general secretary of Terreblanche’s Afrikaner Resistance Movement who now runs a sister organization People of the Covenant, promised to bring 500 khaki-clad supporters to stand outside the court as the verdict is delivered.

“The people are very emotional and aggressive and fed up with farm murders,” he said. “Mr. Terreblanche was murdered in the most gruesome way and if his murderers, who confessed that they killed him, are acquitted, I can assure you there will be havoc.”

He claimed that more liberal Afrikaners were now joining their ranks, and as many as 3,000 people would march through South Africa’s cities in the coming months, wearing balaclavas to avoid the “victimization” that has previously deterred them.

'We are fed up'

“We are fed up in South Africa with the genocide of white people, with being second class citizens, with the appalling government of the ANC, with black people stealing money through corruption,” he said.

“We have learned one lesson over the last 18 years with this government – they don’t listen to what we are saying.

“Violence is what makes them listen. So we are discussing what we are going to do if these boys are acquitted. But we will not say: ‘It’s a shame’, and move on.”

Police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said riot units and a police helicopter were on standby in case of trouble. “This is a crunch moment and we are ready for any eventuality,” he said. “It’s always sad to lose a loved one or a leader but there are limits. We will act against any wrongdoing.”

Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations said that while the far right had neither the numbers nor the political support to launch all-out war, he feared a “Lone Ranger Scenario” where one or two radicals staged a shooting spree at a black school.

“That’s perfectly possible and that’s why these guys are dangerous,” he said. “The political fall-out of that could be very significant.”

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