Before the events surrounding the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche become the stuff of legend, myth and spin, we must soberly look at his killing and shape an analysis of his death within the contexts of the dire conditions of rural farm workers, and the unequal social relations simmering in the countryside. For this reason it would be too simplistic to view Terre’Blanche’s murder as a purely racially motivated act. That does not mean that the singing of a song, which should be relegated to history, has not played its part in exacerbating an environment of racial tension fuelled by the populism of Malema with the acquiescence of the ruling party.
To view the Terre’Blanche murder as a race murder is to look for an easy answer. Terre’Blanche was not killed because he was white. The meaning of Terre’Blanche’s murder is a symptom of our unequal society. The talk of race must move beyond white supremacy and black nationalism, and look at the environment in which he was murdered — an unequal society in which a growing under-class of urban and rural poor, mainly black, see their situation growing more dire, made more so through weak service delivery and extreme levels of unemployment.
Their situation is juxtaposed against the historical wealth of white South Africans, and the nouveau wealth of black South Africans. So if we are to discuss this murder, as one of many murders taking place throughout the country, then it must be in the context of growing frustration with a state alienated from the plight of its people, the continued monopolisation of resources by capital, and an economic status quo in which generally, white South Africans remain wealthy and land owning. Terre’Blanche’s murder was an economic murder.
Terre’Blanche’s murder in fact illuminates the feudal system of rule still prevalent in our countryside. There has been very little change in the social relations between white farmers and black farm labourers since the days of colonialism. Not since the slave Galant led the Koubokkeveld revolt in 1825 as the whispers of freedom came across the Atlantic; not since 2006 when farmer Piet Botes from the Leeu Gamka area in the Karoo assaulted two teenage girls, was found guilty in a court, while facing charges of abducting and murdering 13-year-old Elizabeth Martiens; nor recently in 2010 when Swartruggens farm worker Zibilon Setlhodi was allegedly badly assaulted by farmer H Engelbrecht.
The list of black farm workers murdered or assaulted by white farmers is as endless as the 3000-odd farmers who, Agriforum, and others in the Afrikaner community, say have been murdered. The manner of his death, viciously beaten to death, is a bitter-sweet irony for Terre’Blanche, a man whose time in prison was not for political reasons, but rather for assaulting and maiming two black men; Paul Motshabi, who was in his employ in 1997, and petrol attendant, John Ndzima. How ironic that this “kragdadige” lived by the sword, and died by it. Stories are emerging of how Terre’Blanche ill-treated his own farm workers. If true, it sheds light on the many cases of farm owners (predominantly white) who continue to maltreat farm workers, exploit their labour, rape women and girls, and dispossess families of their homes.
Despite the laws protecting security of tenure of farm workers, the labour laws legislating hours of work and minimum wage standards for farm workers, or just the framework of basic human rights underpinning the political and civil rights of citizens in the public arena, many rural farmers operate in a feudal time-warp of ownership and social relations. The political and physical isolation of rural towns provides an almost schizophrenic immunity from a South Africa that has moved on from apartheid, if only in legal terms. Civil, political and social rights are often ignored in the social relations between black farm workers and white farmers as can be attested to by the many cases of assault, battery and even murder brought by black farm workers against white farmers. So, given this sub-world of white Afrikaner feudalism still alive in South Africa’s rural hinterland, is it any wonder that the two farm workers accused of killing Terre’Blanche say he refused to pay them the paltry amount of R350 for a months’ work.
Though the circumstances surrounding his death remain to be confirmed in court, and murder itself cannot be condoned, given rural social and economic relations, is it any wonder that Terre’Blanche was murdered in the way that he was? The master/servant relations underpinning social structures are alive and well in rural South Africa and underscore the continued struggle to organise rural farm workers.