They arrived in camouflage gear with pistols at their side, brandishing white crosses and pictures of their dead leader.
With the fervour that characterised the life of white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche, his supporters turned out yesterday to bury a man whose murder triggered a tumultuous week in South Africa and exposed the racial tensions that remain 16 years after the end of apartheid.
Several hundred people crammed into the church at Ventersdorp for a service full of impassioned rhetoric dedicated to the leader of the tiny Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) who fought a futile battle against black majority rule.
Yet, in a sign of how far the country has come since Terreblanche ferociously stoked the racial fires of the 1990s, the funeral passed off peacefully as black South Africa largely stayed away.
Two black farm workers have been charged with beating and hacking Terreblanche to death last Saturday in what police suspect was a pay dispute, but which his supporters claim was politically motivated.
His party initially claimed it was a "declaration of war by the black community" and vowed revenge. The party's senior members later rowed back their rhetoric and joined Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, in calling for calm, mindful of the football World Cup coming to Africa for the first time in June.
However, the killing of the 69-year-old has put his message of division firmly back into the public eye after years spent in obscurity amid the decline of his AWB movement in a post-apartheid world and time in prison for the near murder of a black security guard.
Yesterday, his coffin was draped with the red, black and white flag of his party, its logo recalling the Nazi swastika. Two men wearing the group's military-style uniform guarded the coffin inside the church. The mourners sang "Die Stem", an Afrikaner song that was South Africa's apartheid-era anthem. In what was described as a gesture of reconciliation, the church lifted its usual "whites only" restrictions to allow in black journalists and a handful of local dignitaries.
But reconciliation went only so far: some mourners muttered "housemaid" in Afrikaans when a black government minister paying official respects walked past. For others the hatred ran deeper.
"We are here today to declare war and avenge the death of our leader," a businessman, who did not want to be named, told Reuters. "Most white men between 35-55 have military training and we are prepared to use our skills."
Several mourners linked Terreblanche's death to the fiery rhetoric of Julius Malema, the leader of the ruling ANC's Youth League. Mr Malema has revived an anti-apartheid era song that refers to killing white farmers. On Thursday, he expelled a BBC journalist from a news conference, calling the reporter a bastard and "bloody agent" with a "white tendency".
The ANC condemned his behaviour. "The unfortunate outburst by comrade Julius Malema did not only reflect negatively on him, but also reflected negatively on the ANCYL, the entire ANC family, our alliance partners as well as South Africa in the eyes of the international community," the party said.
Terreblanche was buried within sight of the largely disused farmhouse where he was killed.Reuse content