A South African court Tuesday began delivering its verdict in the trial of two black farmworkers accused of murdering white supremacist leader Eugene Terre’Blanche.
Terre’Blanche’s former employees Chris Mahlangu, 29, and Patrick Ndlovu, 18, have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and aggravated robbery.
Judge John Horn could take until Wednesday to finish reading the verdict in the case that had provoked fears of racial violence, but rather opened up claims of sexual and physical abuses on South Africa’s farms.
The co-founder of the far-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) was bludgeoned to death at his farmhouse outside the small northwestern town of Ventersdorp on April 3, 2010.
The pair turned themselves in after the incident and the state have argued that the killing was triggered by a fight over wages.
A small group of AWB supporters gathered outside the court room wielding the movement’s red flags with a swastika-like emblem.
Portraits of Terre’Blanche with captions “stop farm murders” and “we want justice”, festooned trees around the courthouse which was guarded by heavily armed police.
“We hope justice would be done, but one can’t be too sure,” said Andre Visagie, leader of a splinter AWB group.
Mahlangu faces life imprisonment if convicted of murder. Ndlovu was 15 at the time of the killing and was tried as a minor.
Last month Horn ruled most evidence against the teenager inadmissible because police failed to follow South Africa’s child protection law in handling the case.
“We believe that we have presented enough evidence to sustain a conviction for the first accused,” Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority told AFP.
“With regards to the second accused, it is hard to say,” he added.
Mahlangu claimed that Terre’Blanche had raped him, while the teenager said police had failed to act on a case of physical abuse filed against the founder of the notorious separatist group.
The pair turned themselves in after the murder, and the state have argued that the killing was triggered by a fight over wages.
Terre’Blanche was found on his bed with his pants pulled down to reveal his genitals. Initial testimony revealed that there was semen on his body, but the substance was never analysed.
The pathologist who collected his body testified that the semen-like fluid seen in photos of his corpse may have been wiped off when he was put in a body bag.
Mahlangu’s lawyer told the court that he killed Terre’Blanche in self-defence after the farmer attacked him with a machete.
During the trial, small groups of white AWB members held demonstrations outside the courthouse and displayed placards calling for justice and voicing anger at the killing of farmers.
Black people in apparent support of the accused also gathered outside court during initial hearings, chanting slogans.
The killing confronted South Africa with memories of its dark apartheid past, but during the long proceedings the trial has largely faded from public debate.
The trial has instead cast yet another light on South Africa’s staggering incidence of sexual abuse and of violence the country’s farms, still mostly in white hands 18 years after the end of apartheid.
Terre’Blanche’s supporters, who wear khaki uniforms and the organisation’s swastika-like symbol, violently opposed South Africa’s all-race democracy and campaigned for a self-governing white state.
Their campaign included deadly bomb attacks ahead of the 1994 polls that ended white-minority rule.
He was granted amnesty by South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission for several acts, including a 1979 tarring and feathering.
But the AWB leader was jailed in 2001 for the attempted murder of the security guard and for an assault on a petrol station attendant. He was released in 2004 and then faded into obscurity, until his gruesome death.