Mourners sing apartheid-era anthem at funeral for prominent South African white supremacist

By Donna Bryson, AP
Friday, April 9, 2010

South African white supremacist laid to rest

VENTERSDORP, South Africa — A white supremacist killed in what has been described as a wage dispute with two young black farmworkers was remembered Friday with nationalist anthems and flags and impassioned rhetoric as a divided South Africa contemplated the meaning of his brutal death.

Camouflage-clad men carrying pistols and little girls in their Sunday best gathered in the country’s northwest to mourn Eugene Terreblanche, whose body was brought into the church in a closed coffin covered in red and white flowers.

Terreblanche’s death has not sparked wider violence. South African leaders acknowledged that racial tensions remain 16 years after apartheid ended, but have played down any threat to the World Cup that starts in June, the first time football’s premier tournament will come to Africa.

White militants who considered Terreblanche their leader say his death proves whites aren’t safe under majority rule. Black leaders say controlling crime — whether its victims are white or black — is a priority in a country with one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world.

Terreblanche’s coffin was draped with a flag — red, black and white, with a Nazi-like symbol in the center — representing the white supremacist movement he led. Two men wearing the group’s military-style uniform guarded the coffin.

The some 500 people in the church rose and sang Die Stem, an Afrikaans song that was the national anthem during the apartheid era. One verse of the song, which translates to “The Call,” is a verse in the modern, multi-lingual national anthem, Nkosi Sikeleli Africa.

The one-and-a-half hour service also included hymns, Bible readings and impassioned rhetoric.

Afterward, as heavy rain began to fall, a motorcade led by a white hearse and police outriders wound its way to Terreblanche’s farm, where he was to be buried within sight of the largely disused farmhouse where he was killed. Mourners on motorcycles, in cars and trucks — some of them flying the group’s flag — followed the hearse carrying the coffin.

At the farm, the crowd grew to nearly 2,000 people. Terreblanche’s horse, Attila, was led riderless before the coffin, past an honor guard of men in black, paramilitary style uniforms. Relatives scattered flowers on the coffin after it was lowered into the grave.

Supporters have been leaving flowers and messages — some blasting Malema — at the farm for days. Friday, a teenage girl with an apartheid-era South African flag wept as she lay flowers at the front gate. A cross some 20 feet high stood at the gate. Its Afrikaans inscription read: “Eugene Terreblanche: our hero, rest in peace.”

Several mourners linked Terreblanche’s death to the fiery rhetoric of a top member of the African National Congress. In recent weeks, Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League, has been reviving an anti-apartheid era song that refers to killing white farmers.

Among the speakers at the service was Steve Hofmeyr, a well-known Afrikaans singer, who accused Malema of hate speech and government of failing to control crime.

“Our government’s paralysis here will afford us many sad days like this, black and white,” he said.

Malema says the song has nothing to do with Terreblanche’s death. While the ANC insists the song is part of its heritage, following Terreblanche’s death it asked its members to refrain from performing anti-apartheid anthems that could be divisive.

Also among the mourners was Bojosi Isaac Medupe, a black minister who said he visited Terreblanche in prison after the white leader was convicted of beating a black farm worker so badly the man was left brain damaged.

Medupe said he believed Terreblanche mellowed in prison, and was no longer committed to racial separatism or white supremacy when he left.

“I believe there was a change in him,” Medupe said, adding Terreblanche later helped him buy land in Ventersdorp.

The aftermath of Terreblanche’s death has shown how far South Africa has come. White militants first vowed revenge, but later joined President Jacob Zuma in calling for calm.

Earlier this week, whites and blacks faced off angrily in front of a courthouse where a teenager and another farm worker who allegedly confessed to killing Terreblanche were charged with murder. But white leaders then asked their followers to go home, and the day ended calmly.

On Friday, the country’s largest trade union called a meeting to coincide with the funeral in the part of Ventersdorp where most of the town’s poor blacks live, ensuring there would be no racial confrontations.

Provincial Premier Maureen Modiselle, who is black, was among the mourners Friday, her presence underlining government statements that it is in solidarity with all crime victims.

Terreblanche’s Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement, better known as the AWB, seeks to create an all-white republic within mostly black South Africa. The group’s insignia resembles a Nazi swastika, but with three prongs instead of four.

The movement always has been on the fringes, estimated to have no more than 70,000 members at its height in the early 1990s out of a population of nearly 50 million.

Terreblanche was sentenced to six years in jail in 2001 for the attempted murder of former security guard Paul Motshabi in March 1996. Terreblanche was released in 2004. Motshabi suffered brain damage, and was left paralyzed and unable to speak for months after the attack.

will not be displayed