SOUTH AFRICA: Church heads condemn killing of extremist white leader

April 6, 2010

Christian leaders in South Africa have condemned the slaying of an extreme right wing leader in the country, Eugene Terre'Blanche, and have called on political leaders to urge restraint at a time of rising racial tension. A song promoted by the leader of the youth wing of the ruling African National Congress that encourages the killing of white people, and that one court ruling has banned, has been blamed for fanning some of the tensions that the followers of Terre'Blanche say caused the killing. The web-based news outlet Legalbrief reported that the April 3 slaying of Terre'Blanche, who was the leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbewging (AWB - Afrikaner Resistance Movement), has increased fears of growing racial tension following the legal battle over racial hate speech. Legalbrief reported that racial tensions between majority blacks and minority white South Africans have been at their highest level since the 1993 assassination of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, which threatened to derail the country's first democratic elections. Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town was quick to respond to the killing of Terre'Blanche, who once served a prison sentence after beating a black petrol pump attendant to a pulp, and who bitterly fought against the end of apartheid. "I heard the shocking news of his killing as I was leaving Cape Town Cathedral in the early hours of Easter Sunday, having just celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," said the archbishop, who like many church leaders was involved in the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s. "I condemn the murder of Mr. Terre'Blanche, and extend my deepest condolences to his family, whom I hold in my prayers," said Makgoba. "No child of God, no matter who they are, no matter what their views, should end their lives in this way. Let Easter break the cycle of death." The South African Council of Churches, which has the backing of Orthodox and Protestant churches, as well as Roman Catholic bishops, on April 5 called for political parties to show strong leadership following the killing of Terre'Blanche, who died aged 69. "We call upon other political leaders to step forward and provide the reconciling leadership that is necessary for the country at this time," said SACC General Secretary Eddie Makue. "Such leadership will exclude inflammatory speeches or songs, which have potential to plunge the country into a cycle of violence." Makue sent his organization's condolences to the relatives and friends of Terre'Blanche, and noted that his killing has the potential to create divisions and conflict that might divide South Africa, and destroy the gain from reconciliation made since the 1990s. "We are shocked by the murder of Mr. Terre'Blanche, and we condemn it and reject any and all attempts to justify this act," said Makue. Two of Terre'Blanche's farm workers, aged 15 and 28, have been arrested in connection with his death, which they allegedly confessed to and said was motivated by a salary dispute, the South African Press Association reported. The incident prompted a nervous call for calm from President Jacob Zuma. In the town of Ventersdorp, near to where Terre'Blanche lived, many residents were said to be angry at what they say is a climate in which violence against Afrikaners is encouraged. Members of Terre'Blanche's AWB have blamed his death on African National Congress youth leader Julius Malema, who they say is allowed by his own party leaders to spread hate speech that led to the killing. During March, Malema was in the headlines for leading university students in a song that has the lyric, "kill the Boer." While boer means farmer in Afrikaans, the language of the descendants of the first Dutch and Huguenot settlers, it is also a pejorative word for whites. Agricultural lobby groups say that more than 3,000 white farmers in South Africa have been slain since the first universal suffrage elections in 1994.