JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African white far-right leader Eugene Terre‘blanche, who fought to prevent the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, was beaten and hacked to death at his farm on Saturday, his party said.
Police said two black workers in custody for the killing of Terre‘blanche, 69, appeared to have been angry over unpaid wages rather than having had a political motive for the killing.
But his Afrikaner Resistance Movement linked it to the recent singing of an apartheid-era song with the lyrics “Kill the Boer,” by the head of the ruling ANC party’s youth league in a row that has drawn fears of growing racial polarization.
“That’s what this is all about,” said Andre Visagie, a spokesman for the AWB. “They used pangas (machetes) and pipes to murder him as he slept.”
Terre‘blanche, who described himself as a Boer, was the voice of hardline opposition to the end of white minority rule, but had lived in relative obscurity since his release from prison in 2004 after serving a sentence for beating a black man nearly to death.
His party -- whose flag resembles a Nazi swastika -- was revived two years ago and he had begun efforts to try to build a united front among white far-right parties to fight for a white homeland, but had gained little traction.
Terre‘blanche was a powerful orator in his Afrikaans language and was a distinctive figure, heavily built, with a thick grey beard and dressed in khaki. He often attended rallies on horseback during his fight to stop majority rule.
Police said the suspected killers were aged 16 and 21. Both had worked for Terre‘blanche.
“They apparently attacked the leader because they were not paid for work,” said spokesperson Adele Myburg, giving no details of how the killing was carried out.
Whatever the motive, it is likely to further stoke the concerns over tensions between races in the country dubbed the “Rainbow Nation” after the relatively peaceful transition that brought white minority rule to an end in 1994.
Friction has come to the fore over the singing of the “Kill the Boer” song by African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema last month, which the party has also defended despite its commitment to reconciliation.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance also drew a link between the killing of Terre‘blanche and the atmosphere in the country of 50 million where roughly a tenth are white.
“This happened in a province where racial tension in the rural farming community is increasingly being fueled by irresponsible racist utterances by the leader of the ANCYL leader,” said Juanita Terblanche of the main opposition Democratic Alliance. She was not a direct relation.
There was no immediate comment from the ANC.
President Jacob Zuma, who took office last year, has made special efforts to court white Afrikaners, assuring them they have nothing to fear from his government and that all South Africans must live together.
Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender, editing by Paul Casciato