A call for calm by President Jacob Zuma went unheeded yesterday as supporters of white supremacy figurehead Eugene Terreblanche described his murder as a "declaration of war" by black South Africans on whites.
Terreblanche, the 69-year-old leader of the tiny Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), was battered and hacked to death as he took a nap at his farm at Ventersdorp, 100km from Pretoria, on Saturday afternoon.
Two farm workers, aged 21 and 15, were arrested almost immediately. Police said they had been upset about unpaid wages and yesterday officers were deployed to protect the farm. AWB secretary-general Andre Visagie told reporters gathered outside the farm: "The death of Mr Terreblanche is a declaration of war by the black community of South Africa to the white community that has been killed for 10 years on end."
He said the AWB would avenge the murder and had a warning for countries heading to South Africa for this summer's World Cup. "We're going to warn those nations: 'You are sending your soccer teams to a land of murder. Don't do that if you don't have sufficient protection for them.'"
Until his dramatic death, South Africans of all races had largely forgotten Terreblanche, the extremist white horseman, who caused such trouble during the end of apartheid in the early 1990s. Yesterday's outbursts by his allies looked mostly like political irresponsibility coupled with a rare chance for marginal politicians to speak out.
However, the murder did throw a spotlight on Mr Zuma's perceived lack of authority and, in particular, the behaviour of Terreblanche's black alter-ego Julius Malema, the provocative leader of the youth wing of the African National Congress.
In a rare statement, the President's office appealed for calm. Mr Zuma "condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing of Mr Terreblanche or any other South African for that matter," the statement said. "In any dispute no-one is allowed to take the law into their own hands. Irrespective of how his killers think they may have been justified, they had no right to take his life."
By last night, all the political parties had reacted, some in terms rarely heard since the dying days of apartheid. Mr Visagie promised "there will be revenge", while the pro-black Azanian People's Organisation claimed that Terreblanche had "died in the same manner in which he killed black defenceless farm workers in Ventersdorp", with spokesman Funani ka Ntontela admitting to a "tinge of suppressed excitement" at his death.
Freedom Front Plus, the now rarely heard of Afrikaner party, said President Zuma's call for calm would not defuse tension if the "current taunting of white people continues". The party's leader, Pieter Mulder, blamed Zuma's damaging use of Malema as a left-wing provocateur to defuse tension in the ANC. "Zuma cannot continue to take irresponsible inciters of racial hatred and conflict under his wing,'' he said.
Malema, 29, is currently on a rock-star visit to Zimbabwe as a guest of the youth wing of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. At a weekend rally in the capital, Harare, he supported Zanu-PF moves to take over the Zimbabwe's mines. "That is what we are going to do in South Africa," he said.
He also sang a controversial song, including the slogan "Dubula iBhunu'' (Kill the Boer), which the South African High Court last week banned him from using in his own country, ruling that it is unconstitutional "hate speech", which incites violence against whites.
Mr Visagie of the AWB seized on this yesterday. "Our leader's death is directly linked to Julius Malema's 'Kill the Boer' song. ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe has made excuses on behalf of Malema and up until today Jacob Zuma has not stopped it."
More than 3,000 South African white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994. A 2002 parliamentary enquiry found that the murders were largely not racially motivated but some farmers' leaders disagree.
The ANC is currently appealing against the High Court judgement against Mr Malema. Yesterday, party spokesman Jackson Mthembu told local television: "Julius has not acted in a way that promotes polarisation. The song is not a 'Julius song', it is an ANC song. If you have a problem with the song, we say put it to the ANC."
The ANC Youth League, usually quick to issue statements, did not comment yesterday. Only the national broadcaster SABC managed to reach Malema, and reported that he had said of Terreblanche: "I don't know people like that."
Terreblanche came to prominence in the early 1980s, campaigning for a separate white homeland and championing a small group determined to preserve apartheid. He had founded the AWB – whose logo recalls the Nazi swastika – in 1973 in protest at what he considered excessively reformist policies by the then apartheid government. He served three years in prison after being convicted in 2001 of the attempted murder of a farm worker.
In recent times he had been confined to the political doldrums and most South Africans considered him and his movement's ideas to be laughable. Nevertheless, the polarised political reaction yesterday suggests his funeral later this week could be a tense affair.
Julius Malema: The man accused of inciting Terreblanche's murder
Terreblanche supporters have linked Julius Malema's renditions of the apartheid-era "Kill the Boer" song to their leader's death. But the link is rather that Mr Malema is as much of an embarrassment to someone like Nelson Mandela as Eugene Terreblanche was to his fellow Nobel Peace-Prize winner, the former president F W de Klerk.
To the South African head of state, Jacob Zuma, however, Mr Malema is "presidential material" . So it is fitting that the portly 29-year-old ANC Youth leader is expected to be received by President Robert Mugabe in Harare today.
Yet his rise to prominence in the past year has more to do President Zuma's weak leadership than with his own political talent. It was Mr Malema who, at the Polokwane congress of the ANC in December 2007, declared that he would "take up arms and kill for Zuma".
Now, despite claims that he is the director of four companies yet never filed a tax return, the ambitious "Juju" is stuck to Mr Zuma like a piece of chewing gum to a shoe.
Mr Zuma allegedly sanctioned his Easter trip to Zimbabwe – during which it was predictable that he would pipe up his offending "Kill the Boer" song – despite South African mediators' fears that the outing might derail their efforts to save the unity government of Morgan Tsvangirai.
"Who is the MDC ?" asked Mr Malema rhetorically in Harare, in reference to Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change. "I am here to reconnect with the struggle and I am meeting Zanu-PF who are a liberation movement."
Mr Malema, the son of a domestic worker's from Limpopo Province, is damaging to the ANC. In February, he was found guilty of hate speech for claiming the woman who four years ago accused Mr Zuma of rape had "a nice time". Mr Zuma was cleared of the charges.
Mr Malema has labelled the Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille "a racist", a "colonialist'"and, most recently, a "satanist". He referred to a Communist Party official Jeremy Cronin as a "white messiah". He accused the Technology minister Naledi Pandor of using a "fake accent" because of her English intonation.
He regularly calls for the nationalisation of mines, then the ANC routinely issues a statement that it is not policy. He is accused of being a "tenderpreneur" with interests in companies that won more than 20 government and provincial contracts in 2008. But we are going to have to get used to him. Whereas Terreblanche said the unspeakable on behalf of a tiny number of extremist Afrikaners, Mr Malema is tolerated – some would say encouraged – as an irritant by a liberation movement, the ANC, which was re-elected for a fourth time to government last year because there was no alternative.
Under Mr Mandela, then Mr Mbeki and now Mr Zuma, the ANC has created a small black middle-class but has largely failed to address the aspirations and problems (such as HIV/Aids) of the majority of South Africans.
Mr Malema is a distraction who exists to feed the population with revolutionary-flavoured rhetoric.