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 2010-04-12 12:57 am Back to NEWS
Why colour still defines everything in South Africa
Around 3,000 people commemorated Eugene Terreblanche's life

The road to Ventersdorp, home of the late Eugene Terreblanche, is fringed with fertile fields. It is a breath of fresh air driving through the countryside. But then you see the road signs, they are daubed with racist graffiti.

You think it is a throwback to the 1980s, but then you realise the spray paint is still fresh and these racist slogans come from the mouths of a post-apartheid generation.

You can almost taste the racism in Ventersdorp.

I was trying to get a sense of how people were reacting to the killing of the town's most infamous resident and whether the extreme right-wing views he represented had become less evident since the fall of apartheid.

Looking for vengeance

I intercept a white woman as she emerges from a chip shop. With her neatly coiffed hair and freshly-applied lipstick, she is a picture of what might appear to be "rural decency".

And she is happy to talk. "Did she expect a backlash following Terreblanche's death?" I enquire politely.

"Yes," she says. And, taking me by surprise, she describes rather forcefully how she would happily take up arms herself to avenge the killing.

This lady may represent an extreme of Afrikaner thought, but in this town, where the swastika-like emblem of the AWB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) stands proud, there are many conservatives whose views have hardened these last few days.

This febrile atmosphere has not been calmed by the rantings of the youth league of the ruling African National Congress

One black woman I talked to lamented that Eugene Terreblanche had been made a martyr.

"This febrile atmosphere has not been calmed by the rantings of the youth league of the ruling African National Congress"

"We may pay the price," she told me.

The khaki-and-black clad members of the AWB were largely dismissed in the mid-90s as an embarrassment and an irrelevance.

I was told in Ventersdorp that since Terreblanche's killing, the AWB claim that new members are queuing up to join, but few here believe they will be a significant political force.

It was teeming with rain when I met Harry at a farm half-an-hour's drive from Ventersdorp.

He had just picked his son up from university where black and white students now study side by side. Harry's parents were killed two years ago in a brutal robbery at their home.

His best friend Paul was gunned down on his farm in Limpopo just a few weeks back.

Farm killings, fuelled by South Africa's gross inequalities, have become big news.

And because the majority of farmers are white, it has assumed a racial dimension.

New dawn fades

This febrile atmosphere has not been calmed by the rantings of the youth league of the ruling African National Congress, who have been taunting the farmers with anti-white songs from the days of the liberation struggle.

Harry is one of those South Africans who was full of hope when Nelson Mandela became president in 1994.

But now, he tells me, he feels let down by President Zuma. He said he had expected him to behave like a father protecting all his children.

"This he has failed to do," he said.

The great irony is that the frustration of white farmers like Harry is shared by many blacks.

Jabu is a black businessman in Soweto, the township in southern Johannesburg which is associated with the liberation struggle.

Fear of crime, I realised later, was the common thread that united these two men.

But one of them thinks the answer is a return to racial segregation. The other says the country needs to come together and move on.

Race 'excuse'

Jabu was sipping sodas at Sakumzi's restaurant in Soweto when I first met him. He is bright, streetwise and was wearing the football strip of one of the local clubs.

Playing on a white assumption, he introduces himself to me as a car thief. I very quickly realise he was joking.

He was the only black player on the student football team when he studied at the University of the Witwatersrand back in the early 1990s.

A supporter of slain white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche holds a placard reading, Afrikaners on the march to freedom, outside the court in Ventersdorp, South Africa, Tuesday, April 6, 2010. South Africa was famously dubbed the 'rainbow nation' post-apartheid

Now nearly two decades later, he says the racial mix there has remained virtually the same. But he is certain that things are changing for the better in South Africa and he prides himself on having a racially mixed social circle.

Jabu sympathises with the white farmers who express their fears over crime but insists that everyone in South Africa is affected.

"I grew up in my neighbourhood with thieves," he tells me. "And now, most of them are dead."

There is a man up the road who specialise in "panga" or machete killings, he says bluntly.

"What can we do?" he asks. "We just try to rub along together and remember the spirit of "ubuntu", or brotherhood, that Nelson Mandela showed us. We also need to do more to bridge the economic divide. And we've got to stop using race as an excuse."

This is famously the rainbow nation and much has changed here since the days of apartheid. Yet colour, it seems to me, still defines everything in South Africa.


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