By Bob Kasango
Eugene Terreblanche, the 69-year-old White South African supremacist, was attacked on Saturday evening at his home on his farm near the town of Ventersdorp, North West province in South Africa.
South Africa’s history is littered with killings and so the killing of a White farmer far away from the limelight of Pretoria and Johannesburg would ordinarily not attract so much attention worldwide. The killing of Terreblanche though speaks volumes of the state of racial relations in South Africa.
Terreblanche came to prominence in the early 1980s, campaigning for a separate white homeland and championing a tiny minority determined to preserve apartheid through his Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement ‘” AWB).
Terreblanche had founded the white supremacist AWB in 1973, to oppose what he regarded as the liberal policies of the then South African government. His party used terrorist tactics and threatened civil war in the run-up to South Africa’s first democratic elections, before sliding into obscurity.
Terreblanche served three years in jail after being convicted of attempted murder of a farm worker in n 2001. Fate has a way with life and as they say, it always laughs last. Terreblanche is suspected to have met his death at the hands of his own farm workers. A crime he tried and failed to successfully commit was committed with success against him. Such is fate.
The killing comes at a time when the nation’s racial divisions seem particularly acute, the cleft deepened by the singing of a song.
Julius Malema, the leader of the governing party’s youth league, has recently included a sing-along at his public appearances. The song, ‘Ayesab’ Amagwala,’ dates back to the struggle against apartheid. Its lyrics include the lines ‘Shoot the Boer’ ‘” the Dutch word for farmer ‘” ‘shoot, shoot, shoot them with a gun.’
These renditions have led to hot crosscurrents of opinion in South Africa, with some saying that the song has historical importance and that the ‘shooting’ part is metaphorical, while others claim the words are a renewed solicitation to kill.
Last week South Africa’s High Court, in separate hearings, declared the song unlawful and banned its performance, particularly Malema from singing ‘kill the Boer’. It ruled the song was hate speech, a decision that had many legal experts debating the boundaries between free speech and hate speech. The ANC is appealing.
For most South Africans, Eugene Terreblanche was a throwback to another era. But his death is a blow to the country’s image of racial tolerance, fostered so carefully by Nelson Mandela.
Some are likely to believe that the fact that his alleged attackers were arrested so rapidly smacks of a cover-up. Others, on the minority far-right fringe, will see his death as a vindication of their assertion that whites cannot live under black rule.
It is a tragic fact that more than 3,000 white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994. And it is possible that some people may seek retribution. His party had vowed to avenge his murder but has now withdrawn their threat. For how long, we wait with bated breath. Terreblanche’s killing happened in a province where racial tension in the rural farming community is increasingly being fuelled by irresponsible racist utterances.
The murder of Terreblanche creates a potentially explosive situation and reminds us all that not all is well in South Africa just yet. While great strides have been made in the right direction in fostering racial co-existence in the rainbow nation. So much more must be done to assure the world that the calm and stability in South Africa was not just Nelson Mandela’s personal project but that all successive governments must do all they can and should to make the country the all-inclusive nation we have known it to be.
The irony of South Africa is that when you are outside of it, you are struck by what has changed and when you are inside it, you are struck by what has not changed. Black South Africans still do not consider themselves African and it is not uncommon to be told by a Black South African (especially the youth) that they have never been to ‘Africa’!
The future of South Africa, like any other nation, lies in its youth. The Youth League of the ANC is an unusually powerful youth wing and incomparable to any other on the continent. The vibes from its flamboyant leader Julius Malema are deeply disheartening and it would be wrong to characterise them as correct.
Malema is on a trip to Zimbabwe, where he is again proving to be South Africa’s most inflammatory politician. In a speech in Harare on Saturday, he allied himself with the 86-year-old autocrat Robert Mugabe. He commended Mugabe for ‘standing firm against imperialists’ in the same manner Fidel Castro did. He further praised him for appropriating the land of Zimbabwe’s white farmers.
‘In South Africa, we are just starting,’ he said, according to news reports. ‘Here in Zimbabwe, you are already very far. The land question has been addressed.’
He continued: ‘We hear you are now going straight for the mines. That’s what we are going to be doing in South Africa. Now it’s our turn to enjoy from these minerals.’
Actually, the ANC’s official position opposes the nationalisation of mines. And the government’s land redistribution programme, while very troubled in its execution, nevertheless buys white-owned farms rather than confiscating them, paying a reasonable price to landowners willing to sell.
Malema’s blustery remarks, then, might seem inconsequential. After all, the presidency of the party’s youth league is a position relatively low on the party’s flow chart.
But after Zuma, Malema, a relentless newsmaker, is the second-most-quoted person in the country. If people prone to saying the outrageous are called loose cannons, Malema could be considered heavy ordinance.
There is recurring speculation about why the ANC does not curb his vitriol and racially polarising statements. It is a hierarchical organisation that insists on party discipline. The silence of ANC on Malema’s conduct is leading many to believe that his comments must come with the sanction of some within the party leadership.
In his trip to Zimbabwe, Malema has scorned Tsvangirai, a man beaten up several times for his opposition to Mugabe. He called him a lackey for ‘imperialists’.
A man who dresses in expensive clothes and drives luxury cars, Malema additionally condemned some of his white countrymen. ‘The economy is still controlled by white males who are refusing to change, and the media is also controlled by white males who are refusing to change,’ he said.
President Zuma has publicly condemned the murder of Terreblanche, calling it ‘one of the sad moments for our country’. He beseeched South Africans not to let anyone ‘take advantage of the terrible deed’. Very emotional, strong and encouraging words, but Mr President, you ought to be doing more to stop Malema in his tracks.
Terreblanche controversial past
Terreblanche was lampooned in the 1991 documentary The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife, directed by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield. A sequel, His Big White Self, was first broadcast in February 2006. Terreblanche was also interviewed by Louis Theroux in the episode 3.3 Boer separatists of the BBC series Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends. In 1988, the AWB was beset by scandal when claims of an affair with journalist Jani Allan surfaced. In July 1989, Cornelius Lottering, a member of the breakaway Orde van die Dood group, orchestrated a failed assassination attempt on Allan’s life by placing a bomb outside her Sandton apartment.
Broomfield’s 1991 documentary claimed that Terreblanche had an affair with the Sunday Times journalist; a claim she denied as well as her portrayal in the documentary. This led to Allan taking libel proceedings against the documentary broadcaster Channel 4 in 1992 in the London High Court. During the trial, several transcripts of their alleged sexual relationship appeared in the South African and British press. Terreblanche also submitted a sworn statement to the London court denying that he had had an affair with Allan. Although the judge found that Channel 4’s allegations had not defamed Allan, he did not rule on whether or not there had been an affair. Terreblanche was widely ridiculed after he was filmed falling off his horse during a parade in Pretoria: even after his death the SABC said on the evening news that he would be remembered ‘as a failed horseman.’
In 2004, he was controversially voted No. 25 in SABC3’s Great South Africans from a list of 100 South African personalities. Controversy over the list led the SABC to cancel the television series.