News / Africa

Farm Murder, Anti-Apartheid Song Stoke Racial Tensions in South Africa


Scott Bobb

In South Africa, racial tensions have been heightened in some sectors of society following the murder of white supremacist leader Eugene Terre'Blanche.  Two black farm workers have been charged with his murder, but Terre'Blanche's supporters blame the killing on what they say is hate speech by the youth leader of the ruling African National Congress.

The killing of the leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), Eugene Terre'Blanche, drew thousands of sympathizers from across South Africa to his funeral in this conservative farm community in Northwest Province, west of Johannesburg.

Two black farm workers were charged with murder amidst a tense faceoff between whites and blacks outside the town courthouse.

Most white South Africans reject Terre'Blanche's extreme right-wing views.  But his death brought a show of support for white farmers, who say 3,000 of their group have been killed since the end of apartheid 16 years ago.

Academic studies say most farm murders are criminally motivated.  But Terre'Blanche's supporters like Kurt Helfer say they are meant to drive white farmers from their land, and they accuse the black-led government of doing nothing to stop them.

"We will have to stand together as one nation, especially all the whites, as it looks like all of our lives are in danger.  So we will definitely have to do something," said Helfer.

Some blame Terre'Blanche's murder on the youth leader of the ruling African National Congress, Julius Malema, who recently revived an anti-apartheid song with the refrain, "Shoot the Boer," or white farmer.  ANC senior leaders have told Malema to drop the song.

Emotions were also high in the nearby township, Tshing, where black farm workers were airing their grievances before trade-union leaders.

The workers complain that some white farmers pay them a fraction of the minimum wage, make them work seven days a week, beat them or do not pay them at all.  And they say the government and unions do nothing about it.

Local resident Pule Plaatjie says relations between the races have improved since the end of apartheid, but Terre'Blanche's group has remained racist.

"The relationship between blacks and whites it has been changed.  There [are] many differences.  But really here in Ventersdorp, people, like those who are in the AWB, they do not want to change," noted Plaatjie.

A young leader from the Communist Party, Themba Mbatha, says relations between blacks and whites are better in some ways.

"To a certain degree we have mended our relations," said Mbatha.  "It is easier now to relate with some of the white people.  But at same time it is worse because what happened is that apartheid only died institutionally, in terms of being implemented by government."

Kerwin Lebone of Johannesburg's Institute of Race Relations says centuries of racial conflict could not fade away in the mere 16 years since the end of apartheid.

"Nothing can be worse than what was in the past in [before] 1994.  They are certainly better.  And a lot of things are improving.  It is just that it is our society that has come from such a history of racial hatred that each and every little incident will always be highlighted and blown out of proportion," explained Lebone.

The frictions go beyond rural communities.  In the cities, well-off whites and blacks bunker behind walls fearing criminals in a society with one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the world.

More than half of young blacks are unemployed.  Yet, young Afrikaners say they cannot find jobs because equal opportunity policies favor the hiring of blacks.

Lebone says much of the tension is due to poverty and rising anger over the lack of improvement in living conditions for most South Africans.  But he says most South Africans do not want conflict.

"There will never be another race war in South Africa," added Lebone.  "I think people have learned from the past and we respect each other enough [too much] to go back to the horror of the past."

He concludes that despite the legacy of racial hatred in the country, most South Africans want to live together in peace.

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