by Adam Ford
On 3rd April, notorious South African white supremacist Eugène Terre’Blanche was murdered on his farm by two young black workers. It has been claimed that Terre’Blanche (whose French surname ironically means ‘white land’) owed the men months of back wages, and even that there was a sexual element. But whatever the specifics, the political storm surrounding the case has made it clear that social class is the chasm dividing ‘the new South Africa’.
Terre’Blanche gained some infamy in the UK with his appearance on one of ‘Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends’, and Theroux’s fellow documentarist Nick Broomfield also examined ‘His Big White Self’. But in reality, Terre’Blanche had long been a marginal political figure.
He founded the Afrikaner Resistance Movement in 1973, in response to apartheid President PW Botha’s perceived liberalism. As the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela continued on the long march to power, Terre’Blanche threatened civil war, and led his supporters into battle with police at the ‘Battle of Ventersdorp’. But impoverished blacks were rebelling in the townships, and it was clear to the white elite that they had no choice other than handing over the reins to Mandela, a representative of the aspirational “non-European bourgeoisie” (as Mandela had described his coterie as far back as 1956).
Terre’Blanche did not mellow post-apartheid. In 1997, he was jailed for the attempted murder of a black security guard, and four years later he was back in prison for beating a farm worker so badly that he was left brain damaged. With some white farmers doing well under the new system, Terre’Blanche was now something of an embarrassment.
Ok then, a racist thug is dead; so far, so good riddance. But the reaction of the ruling African National Congress says much more about the state of contemporary South African society. President Jacob Zuma (the party’s third, following Mandela and Thabo Mbeki) denounced the “terrible deed”, called for calm, and warned South Africans “not to allow agents provocateurs to take advantage of this situation by inciting or fuelling racial hatred.”
However, that is exactly what ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema has been doing, by quoting lyrics from apartheid-era song ‘Dubula Ibhunu’ (‘Kill The Boer’, with the term ‘Boer’ meaning ‘white farmer’).
In government, the ANC has overseen the funnelling of new international investment to a small layer of black business leaders, while poverty and inequality has increased amongst working people of all ethnicities.
Last month saw the fiftieth anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, when police killed sixty-nine unarmed black protesters, giving birth to greater black militancy as they did so. The ANC has traded on the memory of Sharpeville ever since, and indeed Mandela signed the post-apartheid constitution there. But February 2010 saw riots, as demonstrators against deprivation and ANC hypocrisy clashed with the majority black police force, who responded with gunfire, in a sinister echo of their apartheid predecessors.
‘Kill The Boer’ has now been ruled unconstitutional by the high court, but today’s marchers sing a new song: ‘Amabhunu amnyama asenzela I – worry’ (‘Black Boers give us worry’). Amidst the global recession, President Zuma is defending white as well as black elements amongst the rich, while young leaders such as Malema feels the need to channel street anger into the safe cul-de-sac of racism. But the truth is becoming obvious to the broad masses of people, and the stage is set for an explosion in class-based conflict.