The murder of Eugene Terre`Blanche, the leader of the "Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging" (AWB) on 2 April 2010 could not have happened at a worse time in the history of South Africa's young democracy. The AWB had become irrelevant after 1994 and Terre'Blanche's efforts since last year to revive the organisation were largely unsuccessful. Unfortunately his death occurred in a political climate marked by increasing feelings of alienation among white Afrikaners (aggravated by the singing of an apartheid-era song "kill the Boer, kill the farmer" by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema), numerous attacks upon, and murders of, farmers, armed burglaries in urban areas and a growing fear of violent crime. The reluctance of the government to discipline Malema and the perception that crime and in particular farm murders are not addressed, does not help to calm the current situation. The government, through President Zuma, was quick to urge politicians to show unity and responsibility following the murder of the AWB leader. Nevertheless, the AWB immediately vowed to avenge their leader's gruesome murder. Fears of growing racial tensions and polarisation grew even as condolences streamed in. Fortunately the newly elected leader of the AWB, Steyn van Ronge, immediately denounced any suggestion of violence and revenge and stated that the AWB will discuss its future after the funeral. During the first appearance of the suspects it was clear that racial tensions would run high. Not only has there been a resurgence of direct support to the AWB, but also a feeling in the broader Afrikaner community and possibly in South Africa as a whole that something is about to happen. The number of people attending the funeral also came as a surprise, estimated by some as up to 10,000. The open display of symbols from the old South Africa and the AWB insignia have not been seen on this scale since 1994.
To what extent will this murder serve to rally right-wing Afrikaners? One must begin by asking what "right-wing" means in today's context. Is it an expression of fear rather than adherence to a particular political viewpoint? Farm violence and even the threat of land invasions and the provocations of irresponsible political figures understandably create anxiety. But to label this reaction as right-wing seems a dangerous over-simplification of the general fear of crime and violence. The right-wing in South Africa can be defined as a segment within white, and in particular Afrikaner, society that adheres to a specific ideology founded on the dual pillars of the separation of the white and the black races and on Afrikaner nationalism. The ideology of the AWB aimed at establishing a Volkstaat adheres to this definition. The difference is that the new AWB post-2009 talks of establishing a Volkstaat within the law and not by force as was the case before 1994. The concern is, however, about the actions of lone riders who could seek revenge and trigger further racial tension and violence, in ways reminiscent of the murders by "Wit Wolf" Barend Strydom in 1988. The AWB as an organisation is currently not very strong, with divisions within the leadership and different opinions about the way forward and about the use of violence. This can hardly be regarded as a threat to national security.
The personal intervention by President Zuma in the wake of the murder was a very positive step, as was the calm displayed by the newly appointed leader of the AWB, Steyn van Ronge. The government and all role players urgently need to organise a meeting or conference to discuss the current climate of intolerance and how to address it. The planned meeting between the AWB and the Minister of Police is already a start. It may be an indication of an effort to find a way forward, to calm emotions and start working on real solutions.
In the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in June/July continued racial tension and possible incidents of racial violence are not good news. The international media is following developments extremely closely and is certain to focus the world`s attention on every negative racial incident. The government and all South Africans must act decisively to show the world that this highly charged situation will be managed, not only because of the World Cup but also in the long-term interest of all South Africans.
Written by: Henri Boshoff. Head Peace Missions Programme, ISS Pretoria