Untimely Observations

Mistah Terre'Blanche, He Dead


I can't say that I have any expertise in the history of South Africa, or that of the Afrikaners. I learned most all of what I know about the slain leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, Eugene Terre'Blanche, from obituaries in the mainstream press. For these reasons, and others, I'm hesitant to write about this man.

A couple of things have stood out in the media coverage, however, which I think are worth commenting on.

Firstly, Terre'Blanche is almost always referred to as a "white supremacist"; indeed, this moniker usually appears in the first couple of sentences of every report. Now, it's true that a supporter of South Africa's Apartheid system can correctly be called a "supremacist"-- as well as advocates of Southern Segregation and Israel's military occupations, for that matter. But in these mainstream papers, the term "white supremacist" sounds like it roughly translates as "evil," "backwards," or even "probably deserved to die anyway."

I've never once heard South Africa's current president, Jacob Zuma, or Zimbabwe's dictator, Robert Mugabe, referred to as "black supremacists," even though both seek the aggrandizement of their people at the expense of others -- in the latter's case, to the point of outright confiscation of property. Israel, too, is engaged in actions that, regardless of what one thinks of them, are clearly designed to secure the prosperity of the Jewish people, and only the Jewish people. "Supremacist" seems to be a political term that can only be preceded by "white."

At any rate, at the end of his life, Terre'Blanche doesn't seem to have been a "white supremacist" at all.  After grasping that hopes of conserving the Apartheid system were completely lost, he began pursuing the revolutionary goal of founding an all-Boer homeland. Much as with "supremacism," having a nation-state of one's own is considered wicked, harmful, and impossible if advocated by whites -- but then lofty, noble, and deserving of foreign aid if advocated by Palestinians or Albanian Kosovars.

And let's not forget that the plight of whites in Africa, on which Terre'Blanche based his later political career, is quite real. As the London Times reported last month,

Death has stalked South Africa’s white farmers for years. The number murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994 has passed 3,000.

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, a campaign of intimidation that began in 2000 has driven more than 4,000 commercial farmers off their land, but has left fewer than two dozen dead.

The vulnerability felt by South Africa’s 40,000 remaining white farmers intensified earlier this month when Julius Malema, head of the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) youth league, opened a public rally by singing Dubula Ibhunu, or Shoot the Boer, an apartheid-era anthem, that was banned by the high court last week.

The second thing that caught my attention in the media reports was that the murder was consistently described as resulting from a "wage dispute." Terre'Blanche was hacked and bludgeoned to death in his sleep, almost to the point of being unrecognizable. This doesn't sound like any "wage dispute" I've been involved in... Needless to say, the media want to avoid giving the bloody deed any more of a "Mistah Kurtz, He Dead" quality than it already has. But it's hard to imagine that the murder wasn't at least partially motivated by a political-racial animus. 

Poignant as well is the fact that the media are writing about a dispute over wages -- and not about Terre'Blanche bringing on the attack by, say, dropping the Dutch equivalent of the N-word or inciting hatred with one of his impassioned speeches. It seems that this horrible embodiment of intolerance was offering blacks gainful employment on his estate.

Eugene Terre'Blanche was probably a tough guy to work for, but in engaging in legitimate commerce with Africans, he no doubt did more for raising black living standards and fostering co-operation between the races than any Truth and Reconciliation commission.