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by Dave Durbach / 12.04.2010

Bakkies and bikes brought thousands to Ventersdorp on Friday to pay final respects to South Africa’s most revered racist, show off their most offensive right-wing regalia and discuss how much they despise Julius Malema. Those who foresaw some form of violent confrontation were proved wrong on a day marked by sombre celebrations, impassioned pleas for respect, a heavy police presence and the steady gaze of international media attention.

It was a day of far greater significance than merely the funeral of a man who had long ceased to hold any sway in this country, if indeed he had ever done so. The circumstances of his murder (at least before the sordid rumours began surfacing) had elevated Eugene Terre’Blanche to an unlikely symbol of contemporary fears and sensitivities, and the perceived (though spurious) persecution of whites here. Rather than getting teary-eyed about the good old days or reminisce about what a great guy ET was, most used the day as a soapbox to mouth off about crime and corruption, the World Cup, Mugabe and most of all, Malema.

“After Dr. Verwoerd’s funeral, this is the biggest funeral I’ve ever been to,” says Danie, 64, from Vereeniging. “I was at Treurnicht’s funeral too, but for me it wasn’t such a big occasion as this one. The issue wasn’t so serious in people’s hearts, because back then there weren’t so many murders and so many crimes in this country. But as time goes on, it just gets more and more, and more and more people realize that the so-called democracy doesn’t work.”

“They buried Terre’Blanche today, but the feeling that we want to be a free nation – they can’t bury that. A free nation that governs ourselves, by our own people.”
“With laws, rules, discipline, respect, morals, not savages.” Someone else pipes in.
“Hierso, there’s no fokkin’ law in this country.” adds another.
“That’s what we’re saying. We want to govern ourselves.” continues Danie, getting worked up. “If they want war, they gonna get fokkin’ war.”

“If that’s what they want, they’ll get it.” repeats his buddy Kobus, 42. “But if that’s not what they wanted, they made a big mistake killing Eugene. ‘Cos that’s the message that people get. They want to do the same to white people here than what they did in Zimbabwe. That’s the message we’re getting at this stage. Malema had been quiet for quite a while. All of sudden he visits Zimbabwe. He actually goes out of his way to provoke the white people. And then all of a sudden, not any white guy, but Eugene Terre’Blanche gets murdered.”

“They think it was easy in Zimbabwe, but they don’t know the people here.” warns Kobus. “It won’t be as easy, I tell you. I won’t leave here cos they tell me to leave. They’ll have to carry me out.”

Nearby, a younger guy in his 20s has a crowd growing in front of him. His name is also Kobus. “I work with black people every day,” he says. “Do you know what they tell me? They tell me, ‘wait until after the World Cup’. Unfortunately for them, the shit has hit the fan before the World Cup. So what now? They want us to be quiet? And let them take over the fuckin country like they did? What is there today? There’s nothing!

“Dissie waarheid!” a woman in the audience enthuses.
“We want Malema! We want Malema!” some fool tries to get a chant going.

Young Kobus launches into a lengthy diatribe against Malema and Uncle Bob, then he drives it home. “We are Afrikaners. We want this country to mean something. When people talk about us, hulle moet weet, they must know who we are.”

“We can share this country with black people. We don’t want anyone to bring back apartheid, that’s not necessary. But they, the black people of this country, especially the people in the ANC, they must come right…If the government is like this, then we must fight for our land. And if there are people who get in our way, for our country, then we will continue fighting against them. I can promise you there are more white people in this country now who will stand together then there ever has been. We white people want to stand together against the corruption in this country, and the murders. We are gatvol!”

“Why won’t they understand the Afrikaner?” another guy sighs.

Though besieged by people decked out in army fatigues, AWB swastikas and the oranje-blanje-blou, life carries on as usual for the black residents of Ventersdorp. At the taxi rank up the street from the church, people are turning a blind eye to proceedings. Miranda, 25, said she felt no anger for ET: “I feel nothing for Terre’Blanche. Nothing at all.” As for his supporters, she is similarly nonplussed. “They are doing what they are supposed to do. You have to respect the dead. It’s the funeral of their leader. They are showing their respect for Mr. Terre’Blanche.”

Miranda is disappointed at not being able to attend the funeral. “I also wanted to go. The problem is, they said black people are not allowed to go to the funeral, because he was killed by a black man.” Like many in this town, Miranda considers Terre’Blanche’s killers heroes. “They’ve done a great job. We’ve been abused by Terre’Blanche for so long, so they did us a big favour.” She’s quick to distance herself from the controversial youth leader, however. “I don’t agree with Malema, He’s speak for himself, not for everybody.” No there’s something your average AWB member doesn’t hear every day.

Michael, 42, was a little more apprehensive. “It’s alright, there’s nothing that affects me. I’m not angry, but I worry – when these people come back from the funeral, all these young white guys, you must expect trouble. You can see that they’re still feeling something, and they’re prepared to do anything. I’m nervous. You cannot just say ‘no, trust the police’. They are nowhere to be seen in the middle of the town, they are out on the outskirts.”

Stability, 26, says that ET had it coming to him. “What goes around comes around. It was his fault. If you are bad, you get a bad result.” There have always been racial tensions in Ventersdorp, he says. “We work for white people, we work for the little money that we have. We do it patiently. They are swearing at us, they are beating us, but we won’t move. There are a lot of black people who have been killed by whites. But there was no conflict between white and black; they didn’t fight…If someone does bad things, one person’s gonna take it easy, but someone else, he’s gonna want revenge. We’re not the same.”

His friend Mangosta, 34, is quick to dismiss the conservative Afrikaner view that ET’s murder was somehow sanctioned by the ANC. “They shouldn’t take it politically. They didn’t kill him for political reasons. They just did it because he was maybe doing something bad to them.”

Though accepting of the Afrikaner’s place and role in SA, Mangosta said he would be willing to defend himself if provoked, echoing Kobus and Danie’s sentiments: “If they fight, we’ll fight back. We’ll give them what they want.”

Certain ultra-conservative Afrikaners go on about how they are being victimized in the new South Africa; how their unique culture is being threatened by pluralism and democracy. At the root of their fears lies an inability to consider the hardships faced by others, or to see things in anything other than black and white. Malema thus becomes a spokesperson for all black people, a dangerous non sequitur that makes it possible for them to blame him, and by association all black people, for the murder of their leader, reinforcing the ‘us and them’ mentality. Just as dangerous is that these people claim to represent the interests of all egte boere, when the majority of white Afrikaners would surely cringe at the prospect of being spoken for by ET, especially a dead one.

While Terre’Blanche’s death should have closed a chapter on militant, ultra-conservative politics in SA, Julius Malema has proven himself more than willing to assume ET’s mantle, should the ANC give him half a chance. Whereas Terre’Blanche was the leader of a small bunch of crackpot conspiracy theorists, however, Malema presently garners far more power and influence than ET ever did. President Zuma’s remarks the day after the funeral promise to put Malema in his place, at last, and should help offset the generalizations upon which conservative Afrikaners’ racism is based. All in all, Friday in Ventersdorp proved not only to be a farewell for Terre’Blanche, but far more importantly, a watershed in Malema’s own political ambitions and a barometer of tolerance and democracy in this country.

All images © Dave Durbach.

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