White Supremacist's Murder Opens Old Wounds

In South Africa, tensions are running high after the murder of one of the country's most notorious white supremacists. It's opening up old wounds dating back to the apartheid era. South African officials are trying to keep a lid on any racial violence and President Jacob Zuma has called for calm.

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The murder of a white supremacist is opening old wounds in South Africa. Those wounds date back to the apartheid era, when whites had a monopoly on political power. NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault´┐Żis covering the story from Johannesburg.

And, Charlayne, who was this man who was murdered?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Eugene Terre'Blanche, as you said, was a white supremacist. And in the early '80s and '90s, he was advocating violent overthrow if black people came to power. And he founded this organization. It's an Afrikaner supremacist organization called the AWB. He championed a white homeland for Afrikaners or Boers, as the Dutch word for Afrikaners is.

And over the years, he's been a very violence-proned man. In 2001, he was sentenced to jail for attacking a gas station worker. He came out of prison saying he was a born-again Christian. And he's been relatively quiet.

INSKEEP: He was a - he's a farmer and was killed, allegedly, by some of his own farm workers. Is that correct?

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes. And law-enforcement people and others have been quick to say that this was not politically motivated, that this was a dispute over wages that were owed to two of the black farm workers. They are 15 years old and 21. He was hacked to death, by the way. And all of the reports say that he was hacked to death in his sleep.

But the two farm workers themselves called the police and waited at the farm until they came and arrested them. And they are saying that they actually killed Terre'Blanche in self-defense, because Terre'Blanche had threatened to kill them.

INSKEEP: Well, now, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, if this man said that he was a born-again Christian and that his white supremacist days were behind him, and if the authorities are indicating that this was a private dispute and not necessarily a - overtly a racial dispute, why has it caused such tension in South Africa?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, because in the last few days, the president of the African National Congress - that's the ruling party - the ANC Youth League has been singing this song "Kill the Boer." And it has created a huge furor in the country, with many black people defending it as a struggle song. It was a song sang during the days of apartheid. And the African National Congress is insisting that kill the Boer meant kill apartheid.

But whites - like those who support Terre'Blanche, as well as those who don't -are saying that this is a kind of song that - well, in the words of Terre'Blanche's supporters, provokes racial genocide. They cite the murder of some six farmers, at least in the last few days. And they also point to some 3,000 farmers that have been killed since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The racial tensions are great. It has led to even the president of the country going on the air Saturday night after the murder, appealing for calm. So it's being treated very seriously, as the racial temperature rises because of it.

INSKEEP: I'm curious, Charlayne, when you're just talking to people, when you're out and about in South Africa, if this is the only thing people are talking about.

HUNTER-GAULT: Pretty much because, you know, it's touched a chord in everybody. Everybody knows about the song "Kill the Boer." Some say, yes, it's a struggle song. We should be able to sing it. It's a part of our heritage. That's the position the president of the country and his party have taken. Others are saying it may be a part of the history, but it belongs in the archives. So you've got real divisions across racial and class lines.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault is in Johannesburg.

Charlayne, thanks very much.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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