Terre’Blanche verdict sparks racial protests

A black farmworker was jailed for life on Wednesday for the murder of the white supremacist leader Eugene Terre'Blanche, ending a two-year case that raised the spectre of racial unrest in South Africa.

About 100 protesters sang racially charged songs outside the courtroom in Ventersdorp in support of 30-year-old Chris Mahlangu, who had pleaded guilty but argued that he acted in self-defence.

They were opposed by 20 white protesters who carried a doll representing a black man, with a rope around its neck, and a sign that said, "Hang Mahlangu".

Mahlangu was found guilty of beating 69-year-old Terre'Blanche to death at his farmhouse with a pipe in April 2010. The killing shook South Africa and triggered fears of racial conflict that proved largely unfounded.

Judge John Horn said the attack had not been racially motivated but was a violent dispute over wages. Horn rejected a defence argument that Mahlangu had been sodomised by Terre'Blanche.

This week Mahlangu claimed he was HIV positive and said he believed he had been infected by Terre'Blanche.

Pleading for leniency
Mahlangu's lawyer, Kgomotso Tlouane, had appealed to Horn not to sentence Mahlangu to life in prison. He said that Mahlangu was drunk at the time of the murder, frustrated because he had not been paid and that he had low intellectual capacity.

Mahlangu has said that he felt he did no wrong by ridding the world of a man some called a monster.

A second man, Patrick Ndlovu, was acquitted of murder but found guilty of breaking and entering with intent to steal. Ndlovu, who was 15 when the killing happened, a minor at the time, received a two-year prison sentence on Wednesday, which meant he was freed for having already served time. He turned 18 during the trial.

The defence lawyer, Zola Majavu, had pleaded for leniency for Ndlovu, saying that he grew up in squalor, had an alcoholic mother and was already a full-time farm labourer with a conviction for petty theft at the age of 15.

"I have never in my professional life pleaded for a client the way I'm doing," Majavu said. "He did not have the benefit of being raised by a capable, responsible and caring mother. Instead, his mother is an alcoholic who could not provide him with maternal care and guidance."

No feelings of hatred
Terre'Blanche's widow, Martie, earlier reportedly said she had no feelings of hatred towards her husband's killer.

Johan Engel, a social worker, told the court that he had interviewed her in June to determine the impact the murder on her family, Beeld newspaper reported. "I want to reclaim my perspective on life, this court case has been a huge setback," she was quoted as telling Engel. "I do not hate the accused, and I'm not bitter … they crushed me and they murdered my husband in the most barbaric way."

She said she still "died 10 deaths" when she drove past his farm in Ventersdorp, Beeld reported.

Terre'Blanche, a burly firebrand with an instantly recognisable thick white beard, co-founded the Afrikaner Resistance Movement to form an all-white republic within South Africa. Its members adopted military uniforms and flags with a symbol reminiscent of the Nazi swastika.

A small group of his armed supporters attempted a coup in the black-run "homeland" of Bophuthatswana shortly before the first democratic elections in April 1994 but retreated after meeting resistance from security forces.

In 1997 Terre'Blanche was sentenced to six years in prison for the attempted murder of a black security guard and assault of a black gas-station worker. His influence in the white supremacist movement had waned by the time he died. – © Guardian News and Media 2012

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