A black farmworker was jailed for life Wednesday for killing South African white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche, two years after the murder sparked fears of violence that never materialised.
Chris Mahlangu was convicted of bludgeoning Terre’Blanche to death in April 2010 on the rightwing extremist’s rural farm, where he had long faded from the public eye after leading militant attacks against the transition toward all-race democracy.
“I find no valid reason to deviate from the prescribed sentence,”High Court Judge John Horn said, granting prosecutors’ request for a life sentence.
Mahlangu had “failed to express genuine remorse” and displayed a “flagrant disregard for the deceased’s right to life”, Horn said.
“You went so far as to accuse the deceased of sodomy, and undoubtedly caused the families hurt,” the judge said.
Mahlangu had claimed the Afrikaner Resistance Movement(AWB) co-founder raped him and infected him with HIV, but the court found no evidence to support the allegation.
Outside the court in the small farming town of Ventersdorp, police kept watch on supporters of both the AWB and Mahlangu, who were divided down racial lines. The eNCA news channel showed a black blow-up doll hanging from a tree dressed in a t-shirt with Mahlangu’s name on it.
The effigy was also dragged behind a pickup truck along the street.
Terre’Blanche’s far-right AWB and its marching band sang Afrikaans songs, while backers of the accused sang songs of support and “Shoot the Boer (farmer)” — an apartheid-era rallying cry that was banned last year.
Terre’Blanche’s murder pushed South Africa’s racial tensions to the fore, with his funeral drawing thousands of supporters to his farm in Ventersdorp, where old apartheid flags flew high amid the AWB’s black swastika symbol.
But fears of racial violence ahead of South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 football World Cup failed to materialise, with the court proceedings dropping out of public debate despite intense early media attention.
In arguments for a milder sentence, a psychologist told the court Mahlangu had low intellect, was orphaned as a boy and grew up selling sweets on the street.
Horn conceded that Mahlangu was paid very little for his work on Terre’Blanche’s farm, but said this did not justify killing his employer.
Mahlangu’s claims to have acted in self-defence were rejected by the judge, who accepted the prosecution’s argument that the killing had been triggered by a fight over wages.
Mahlangu’s co-defendant Patrick Ndlovu, 18, who was a minor at the time of the killing, was found guilty of house-breaking but not guilty on charges of murder and robbery. He was handed a two-year suspended sentence.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world outside war zones, with around 16,000 people — mostly black — killed last year.
The murders of mostly white farmers in the South African countryside has drawn claims of “genocide” from conservative groups, while workers often accuse farmers of abuse and low pay.
Terre’Blanche, 69 when he was killed, co-founded the AWB, which violently opposed South Africa’s all-race democracy and campaigned for a self-governing white state, carrying out bomb attacks ahead of the 1994 elections that brought Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, to power.
The group is mostly based in rural communities in the north of the country and today enjoys little support among the broader white population.