I was busy showing off my mean dance moves at a jazz gig late yesterday, when my phone started to vibrate intermittently in my back pocket. During the break, I then checked my phone messages to see that friends, colleagues and journalists — local and international — had been trying to reach me, either to let me know of the death of Eugene Terre’Blanche or to seek my confirmation or comment on it. I was shocked.
Eugene Terre’Blanche did not deserve to be murdered. He did not deserve to die the way he did. No one deserves to die like that. There can be no justification and no rationalisation for this murder any more than there can be for hundreds others. Like many in this country — black and white — I was appalled by and opposed to the politics of Terre’Blanche. But there is no reason under the sun for a man to be attacked and killed in his own home. Not for who he is. Not for his views. Not for his possessions. Not for his deeds. Not even for his debts. There is no excuse for murder.
A few years ago my friend and mentor, Victor Mahori, then a small business owner in the township of Tembisa — was murdered in his house, in his bedroom. Mahori was literally shot while he was pushing back the door of his bedroom trying to prevent the murderous criminals from entering it. I was deeply revolted at what I saw already then as my beloved country was taking a dangerous path in terms of which nothing was sacred anymore. I remember driving to Tembisa Hospital with two of the children — instantly turned fatherless — to identify his corpse. We drove in silence for I was at a loss as to what to say to them. What kind of a country is this where even churches, homes and bedrooms have become murder sites? What kind of country is this where life itself has become so cheap?
The first and most important thing for all of us to do at this time is to extend our deepest condolences to the immediate and extended family of Terre’Blanche — and that includes the AWB. That should be the starting point of all comment on this tragic death of a man who was seen by some as leader and hero while others saw him as a man stuck in and hankering after a past of racial hatred and division. At this time it is important that we see Terre’Blanche as a fellow human being, as a father, brother, uncle and grandfather. Though tempting, we should all seek to avoid extracting political mileage out of this death — whether in glee or in anger.
It is to be expected that South Africans will seek to understand the meaning and causes of murder of Terre’Blanche in the forest of issues currently challenging our nation today. These include: so-called farm killings, crime, unhealthy relations between farmers and workers, deteriorating relations between blacks and whites, incitement to hatred and the inability of leaders to curb it, the influence of the “shoot the boer” song, the biography of Eugene Terre’Blanche and the ideals for which he stood. Each of these and more will provide sufficient ammunition and angles for vibrant if also emotional discussion in the days to come. Unless the discussion is conducted with maturity and foresight it may become debilitating. We must be careful about resorting to stereotypical and hysterical explanations. We must not sink to the unhelpful levels of discussion one has seen around the “shoot the boer” song by the likes of Julius Malema and Steve Hofmeyr. It is both tenuous and dangerous to make one-on-one connections between the murder of Terre’Blanche and the “shoot the boer” song. If reports that the killers of Terre’Blanche handed themselves to the police, then at least one part of the puzzle is in place. We must give the police and our courts a chance to investigate further before we weave too many conspiracy theories. But it is equally dangerous to continue defending and authorising the singing of any song whose words threaten the lives of any South African citizens — more so after a court has ruled against it. It has been disappointing for me to listen to my leaders trying to defend the indefensible. Coming as we do from a divided past there will be many songs and slogans — on both sides — which once made sense, but will now not sit comfortably in the bosom of the new South Africa. Such songs and slogans — regardless of which side the divide they come from — rightfully belong to the Apartheid Museum in Booysens.
The time has come for all of us to raise the level of discourse, placing the interest and the future of all South Africans before personal or sectional interests.
Without suggesting that there is a direct comparison between Hani and Terre’Blanche, it is worth remembering that when Hani was murdered in 1993, Nelson Mandela stepped forward — even though he was not the state president at the time — to provide the requisite leadership to the nation. His intervention went a long way in providing the glue that was necessary to keep the nation together at that precarious moment. It is my sense that we now have need for such exemplary intervention from our leaders. The visit of the head of the police — Bheki Cele — and Police Minister Nathi Mtethwa to the Terre’Blanche family in Ventersdorp is a good start. But I am now looking at the leadership of the Freedom Front Plus to make a similar bold intervention. I am looking at the leaders of the opposition doing more than score cheap political points on the grave of Eugene Terre’Blanche. Indeed, I am looking at the president going beyond the statements made on his behalf by his spokespeople. Is it not time the president addressed the nation about a whole range of issues that are threatening to tear us apart?