Q&A - What does Terre'blanche killing mean for S.Africa?

JOHANNESBURG Sun Apr 4, 2010 6:35pm IST

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The killing of South African white far-right leader Eugene Terre'blanche has raised fears of racial strains 16 years after the end of apartheid.

Below are answers to some questions on the killing and what it could mean for South Africa, Africa's biggest economy.

HOW IMPORTANT WAS TERRE'BLANCHE?

Since the end of white minority rule, Terre'blanche had become a marginal political figure. He had lived in relative obscurity since being released from prison in 2004 after a sentence for beating a black labourer nearly to death.

His AWB was a minority of a minority with little support even among the tenth of 50 million South Africans who are white.

The more mainstream Freedom Front, which also says it seeks a separate homeland for whites, got far below 1 percent of the vote in the 2009 parliamentary election.

WHAT WAS THE MOTIVE?

Police say it appears to have been a pay dispute between Terre'blanche and two black workers on his farm. Such a dispute would hardly be surprising given Terre'blanche's past record.

But his party sees a deeper racial and political motive in an increasingly charged atmosphere after the controversy over the singing of an apartheid-era song with lyrics "Kill the Boer" by the leader of the ruling ANC's Youth League.

WHAT IS THE ROW OVER THE SONG?

The African National Congress says the singing of the song by Julius Malema was just a way of remembering a history of oppression, but South Africa's minorities see in it a more worrying sign in the so-called "Rainbow Nation".

The ANC dismisses court rulings that it is hate speech.

The song is particularly upsetting for whites living in isolated farm communities. Some 3,000 white farmers have been killed since the end of apartheid.

HOW DIVIDED IS SOUTH AFRICA?

Although South Africa now has a substantial black elite and a growing black middle class, divisions on economic and social grounds remain stark.

Many from the black majority complain that they have not seen the benefits of 16 years of democracy and that whites still live lives of relative privilege and power. Anger has been building in a slew of township protests against poor roads, schools and homes.

Some whites argue they suffer as a result of laws designed to give more opportunities and greater economic power to blacks.

WILL TERRE'BLANCHE'S KILLING INVIGORATE THE FAR RIGHT?

It will certainly give his supporters a rallying point and puts them back in the spotlight for the first time in years with a chance to whip up unease among whites.

But it is highly unlikely that much of the majority of more moderate whites, no matter how concerned at this and other farm killings, would shift to the extreme groups.

WHAT WILL IT MEAN FOR THE ANC AND GOVERNMENT?

There will be little mourning for Terre'blanche, but the killing puts into stark focus the long-term danger of an increase in racial polarisation for such a mixed society.

While President Jacob Zuma has repeatedly stressed the importance of all South Africans being able to live together, the lack of action on Malema's forcefully expressed views has raised questions over the commitment.

The ANC's constituency is the black majority, still largely poor, and it cannot afford to take an unpopular stand, particularly at a time of divisions within the party.

But the killing could help encourage the party leadership to apply pressure for the toning down of racial rhetoric, which has taken South Africa far from the optimism engendered by Nelson Mandela after he became the first democratic president.

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