Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rainbow nation down to two shades with 65 days to World Cup

VENTERSDORP, South Africa - Whites and blacks faced off angrily in song in front of a heavily guarded courthouse overnight where a teenager and a farm worker appeared over the murder of white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche.

The older of the two suspects was walked out of the courthouse in Ventersdorp, North West Province, hours later, placed into a police vehicle and driven away. By then, white protesters had gone, leaving only hundreds of blacks who screamed, ululated and whistled in support. "We are celebrating the death of the man who has abused us so much," one woman in the crowd shouted.

The killing of Terreblanche, a militant leader once convicted of beating a black farm worker so badly the man was left brain damaged, has focused attention on simmering racial tensions less than 10 weeks before South Africa hosts the World Cup.

Earlier, police officers rushed to separate nearly 2,000 people split into white and black groups after a middle-aged white woman sprayed an energy drink on blacks singing the Zulu choruses of the country's national anthem. Whites earlier had been singing the parts of the national anthem that are in Afrikaans and that date to the apartheid era. Police set up coils of razor wire to separate the groups - whites who said they were there to support Terreblanche's family, and blacks supporting the family of the 15-year-old suspect and his 28-year-old co-worker.

Authorities say Terreblanche, 69, was bludgeoned to death on Saturday in his bed. The 15-year-old's mother told AP Television News that the suspects killed the farmer because he hadn't paid them since December. Police have not identified either of the suspects by name. Prosecutor George Baloyi said the suspects were formally charged yesterday with murder, housebreaking with intent to rob, attempted robbery with aggravating circumstances, and crimen injuria, a charge in South Africa that often refers to racial insult. "We will aver that after assaulting the deceased they pulled down his pants to his knees and exposed his private parts," Baloyi told reporters.

Zola Majavu, defence lawyer for the 15-year-old suspect, is representing the boy free of charge. "My client remains innocent until the due process of law is successfully concluded," Majavu said, adding that his client is overwhelmed and fearful for the safety of his family. "The family are traumatised, scared," Majavu said. "The mother is sitting in court right now because she is afraid to go home." A new hearing was set for April 14. Baloyi said investigations until then would include trying to establish whether the suspects were capable of standing trial.

As whites and blacks outside the courthouse advanced on each other and police scrambled to keep them apart, a police officer on the run yelled: "We need more people in here - quick!"

After calm was restored, Pieter Steyn, the provincial leader of Terreblanche's Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement, better known as the AWB, apologised for the woman who sprayed the blacks. A day earlier, Steyn had retreated from threats made by other militants to avenge Terreblanche's death. Steyn said the AWB renounces violence. "We have spoken to every one and told them to be calm," he said. The AWB named Steyn van Ronge as their new leader at a news conference on Terreblanche's farm. Van Ronge said thousands have applied for membership of the organisation since Terreblanche's death.

Terreblanche's AWB has blamed African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema for the death, saying his insistence on public performances of an anti-apartheid song that includes lines about killing white farmers was hate speech that led to Terreblanche's killing. Malema, on the other hand, says the song has nothing to do with Terreblanche's death. The ANC insists the song is part of its heritage and that the lyrics--which also speak of white farmers as thieves and rapists--refer to those who supported apartheid and now oppose democracy.

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