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S.African far-right leader’s murder trial may be postponed

The trial of two farm workers accused of bludgeoning a South African white supremacist leader to death, due to start on Tuesday, is likely to be postponed due to a change in lawyers.

Eugene Terre’Blanche, a co-founder of the far-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), was hacked to death at his farm house outside the northwest town of Ventersdorp on April 3 last year.

Two black workers on the farm, 29-year-old Chris Mahlangu and a 16-year-old, were charged with the killing after handing themselves in to police, allegedly saying they had fought with their employer over pay.

Mahlangu’s former lawyer Puna Moroko said he had handed over the docket to the new lawyer last week, Sapa news agency said.

“There is no way, even if he is a hard working advocate, that he will be ready for Tuesday because its not easy to meet a client just before trial,” he said.

“He needs time to develop confidence in the new person to disclose everything. Right now, he would be doubtful,” Moroko said, adding that a postponment was likely.

The murder had highlighted racial tensions that continue to divide South Africa 17 years after the end of apartheid, with Terre’Blanche’s followers vowing revenge as President Jacob Zuma appealed for calm.

The workers’ previous court appearances have seen AWB members wearing the group’s swastika-like emblem face off against supporters of the workers who greeted the accused with chants of “Hero!”

Police separated the two groups with a razor wire fence during one appearance last year after a scuffle erupted outside the Ventersdorp court house.

The trial will be held behind closed doors to protect the identity of the minor, but 16 journalists and four members of the Terre’Blanche family will be allowed to observe the proceedings by closed circuit television from an adjoining court room.

Prosecutors say the two workers drank 30 cider beers that Terre’Blanche had bought for them, then bludgeoned him to death with a metal pipe and a panga, a machete-like knife, and pulled down his pants to expose his genitals.

Mahlangu disputed that version of events in his bail hearing and said he had acted in self-defence.

Both accused are currently in custody, the minor at a youth facility and Mahlangu in jail after a judge revoked his bail on appeal, saying he posed a flight risk.

The killing has been at the centre of a national debate on race and the aftermath of white-minority rule.

White lobby group Afriforum blamed the murder on an anti-apartheid struggle song linked to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) that includes the lyrics “Shoot the boer” — “farmer” in Afrikaans, the language descended from South Africa’s Dutch settlers.

The group has launched a court case seeking to have the song banned as hate speech.

Terre’Blanche’s killing has featured prominently in the case, which pits Afriforum against the firebrand leader of the ANC’s youth league, Julius Malema, who has defended the song as a piece of history and an anthem against oppression.

Terre’Blanche rose to notoriety as the leader of the militant AWB, which violently opposed the first democratic elections in 1994 with a series of bomb attacks that killed 21 people.

But the 69-year-old had sunk into relative obscurity at the time of his death, and his group now exists only on the fringes of South African society.