Trial to begin in S.African white supremacist's murder
Two black farm workers accused of bludgeoning to death South African white separatist leader Eugene Terre'Blanche stand trial Monday, in a case that recalled the darkness of the apartheid past.
The two workers -- Chris Mahlangu, 29, and a 16-year-old -- face charges of hacking to death the co-founder of the far-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) at his farm house outside the northwest town of Ventersdorp on April 3, 2010.
The two handed themselves in to police after the killing, saying they had fought with their employer over pay, which reportedly was 300 rand (41 dollars, 30 euros) a month.
Their trial was set down for December but was twice postponed because of changes in lawyers for the defence, leaving presiding judge John Horn irritated with "time wasted" in a case that has dragged on for a year and a half.
The two will stand trial together over 10 days in a Ventersdorp court, although the teenager will be tried as a minor. He was 15 at the time of the killing and cannot be identified under South African law.
Days before the trial, attorneys Zola Majavu for the youth and Kgomotso Tlowane for Mahlangu had yet to meet to discuss their strategy.
"We need to discuss what to plead," Tlowane told AFP.
The 68-year-old Terre'Blanche's head was beaten with a knob-headed stick, and a machete was found still embedded in his flesh. His genitals had also been exposed.
The initial court appearances drew hundreds of AWB supporters, clad in khaki uniforms bearing swastika-like symbols, who argued and shouted with hundreds of black people who had also gathered outside the courtroom.
The scenes conjured images of South Africa's apartheid past and raised fears of racial attacks, 17 years after the end of white rule, with President Jacob Zuma personally appealing for calm in the nation.
Terre'Blanche's movement accuses local black politicians of planning the white supremacist's murder.
"This was not simply a labour dispute," AWB leader Steyn van Ronge told AFP. "I am convinced there was more to this."
But he said the AWB was not planning any activities to mark the start of the trial, adding "there may perhaps be a few supporters" at the courthouse.
AWB and other far-right movements want the government to grant self-rule for white South Africans.
They had violently opposed South Africa's all-race democracy, staging bomb attacks ahead of the 1994 polls that brought in Nelson Mandela as the first black president.
Since then, the AWB faded to the fringe of South African society.
With the long delays in the trial, tensions around the murder have also eased, said Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations.
"I don't think we're anywhere near the public reactions than what was in the immediate aftermath of Terre'Blanche's death," he said.
"If you look at the relations of people on the street, we have done remarkably well, in view of our history," Cronje continued.
The AWB only represents a small proportion of whites, who make up nine percent of South Africa's 50 million people, said Cronje.
© 2011 AFP