JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche was bludgeoned to death by two of his farm workers Saturday in an apparent dispute over wages, police said, amid growing racial tensions in the once white-led country.
Terreblanche, 69, was leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement, better known as the AWB, that wanted to create three all-white republics within South Africa in which blacks would be allowed only as guest workers.
The opposition Democratic Alliance party blamed increasing racial tensions for the killing.
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“This happened in a province where racial tension in the rural farming community is increasingly being fueled by irresponsible racist utterances” by two members of the governing African National Council, said the Democratic Alliance legislator for that constituency, Juanita Terblanche.
Terblanche, no relative of the far-right leader, said her party did not share his political convictions but warned that the attack on him could be seen as an attack on the diverse components of South Africa’s democracy.
President Jacob Zuma appealed for calm following “this terrible deed.” In a statement, he asked “South Africans not to allow agent provocateurs to take advantage of this situation by inciting or fueling racial hatred.”
The killing comes 10 weeks before South Africa prepares to host the first World Cup soccer tournament on African soil, with massive expenditures on infrastructure being questioned as hundreds of thousands of tickets and hotel rooms remain unsold.
The South African Press Association quoted police spokeswoman Adele Myburgh as saying that Terreblanche was attacked by a 21-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy who worked for him on his farm outside Ventersdorp, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Myburgh said the alleged attackers have been arrested and charged with murder. She said the two, whom she did not identify by name, told the police that there had been a dispute because they were not paid for work they had done on the farm.
“Mr. Terreblanche’s body was found on the bed with facial and head injuries.” She said a machete was found on his body and a knobkerrie — a wooden staff with a rounded head — next to his bed.
Terreblanche had threatened war on South Africa’s white minority government in the 1980s when it began to make what he considered dangerous concessions to blacks that endangered the survival of South Africa’s white race.
A symbol of white resistance to democratic black majority rule, he had lived in relative obscurity in recent years but had not changed his views.
He revived the AWB in 2008 and had rallies that drew growing crowds whom he wooed with his declaration that white South Africans are entitled to create their own country, a fight he declared he would take to the International Court at The Hague.
From the other side of the color spectrum, a firebrand African National Congress leader also has been raising tensions, insisting on singing an apartheid-era song urging supporters to “kill the Boer.” Boer is Afrikaans for a farmer, but also is a derogatory term for any white in South Africa. Last week, the high court ruled the song hate speech and banned the ANC’s Julius Malema from singing it. The ANC is appealing.
Terreblanche’s killing comes amid growing disenchantment among blacks for whom the right to vote has not translated into jobs and better housing and education.
Some consider themselves betrayed by leaders governing the richest country on the continent and pursuing a policy of black empowerment that has made millionaires of a tiny black elite while millions remain trapped in poverty, even as whites continue to enjoy a privileged lifestyle.
Terreblanche recently has made statements highlighting the corruption that has ballooned under the black government.
“Our country is being run by criminals who murder and rob … We are being oppressed again. We will rise again,” he said, referring to concentration-camp conditions that killed thousands during the Boer War fought by British colonizers.
Terreblanche launched his political career in 1973 amid growing opposition to the white minority government and its racist policies, forming the AWB with six other “patriots” of the Afrikaans-speaking whites descended from Dutch immigrants.
The AWB was a semisecret organization for years. When it “came out” in 1979, the movement displayed its Nazi-like insignia and declared opposition to any parliamentary democracy.
Terreblanche would arrive at meetings on horseback flanked by masked bodyguards dressed in khaki or black and became a charismatic leader for a small minority that could not envision a South Africa under the democratic rule of a black majority.
At one rally his guards who terrorized blacks and were dubbed “storm troopers” after the Nazis, brandished guns, police batons and knives, prompting the government to announce it was “looking into” the actions and attitudes of the movement.
In 1983, Terreblanche was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail sentence for illegal arms possession, though he said the arms were planted by black opponents. The same year, two AWB militants were jailed for 15 years for conspiring to overthrow the government and assassinate black leaders.
Terreblanche finally was jailed in 1997, sentenced to six years for the attempted murder of a black security guard and assaulting a black gas station worker.
He became a born-again Christian in prison, and declared on his release in 2004 that his experience had convinced him that “the real hour to revive the resistance had arrived.”
Terreblanche had threatened to take the country by force if the white government capitulated to the African National Council.
After the white government conceded, the ANC overwhelmingly won 1994 elections and has won every election since with more than 60 percent of votes.