Eugene Terreblanche: The South African race war there never was

AWB members outside court (file photo)

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When news emerged of Eugene Terreblanche's violent death in April 2010, South Africa braced itself for racial tensions.

The red and black swastika-like banners of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement - AWB) - the white supremacist movement that the bearded giant once led - waved menacingly at television cameras amid calls for revenge.

It felt like a chilling return to the late 1980s.

But as the trial of the two farmworkers (one of them a young teenager) progressed, it became clear that this was nothing more than a grisly criminal case, which captured the headlines with its allegations of labour exploitation, sexual innuendo and police incompetence at preserving evidence.

Eusebius Mckaiser from the Wits Centre for Ethics said the trial has been a "demonstration of the impotence of the extreme right. When the murder happened, people thought a race war was just around the corner but it hasn't happened… the political dimension has just fizzled out".

Who was Eugene Terreblanche?

  • 1941: Born on a farm in the north-western town of Ventersdorp
  • 1973: Co-founded AWB to protect rights of Afrikaner community
  • 1993: AWB vehicle smashes into World Trade Centre in Johannesburg during talks to end apartheid
  • 1994: AWB invades tribal homeland of Bophuthatswana and is defeated; three AWB men die
  • 1998: Accepts moral blame for 1994 bombings that killed 21
  • 2001: Jailed for attempted murder of farmworker
  • 2004: Released from prison
  • 2008: The AWB - whose flag resembles the Nazi Swastika - is revived.
  • 2010: Murdered on 3 April on his farm in Ventersdorp

President Jacob Zuma was quick to be seen to be extinguishing any racial flame in the weeks after the alleged murder.

He publicly berated Julius Malema, the maverick former leader of the ANC youth league, urging him not to sing songs from the struggle against apartheid, which a court later confirmed were "hate speech" because of their controversial refrain "Shoot the boer [white farmer]... kill the boer".

And he has been conspicuous in his attempts to try to woo intellectuals from the Afrikaans community.

That is not to say that South Africa is growing more racially harmonious.

Human rights groups warn that some black labourers are virtually "enslaved" on some white farms, paid below the minimum wage and subject to abuse.

And the Afrikaans farming community complains that it is targeted in violent farm attacks.

Both reflect a reality that South Africans have yet to face up to, but many will argue that the Terreblanche court case does little to move the debate on.

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