PRETORIA, South Africa — South African leaders are stepping up efforts to calm racial tensions after the brutal killing Sunday of white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche.
Police have described Terreblanche's killing as a tragic end to a wage dispute with two black farm workers, and the alleged killers have turned themselves in to law enforcement authorities, but members of Terreblanche's far-right Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) party have called the killing "a declaration of war" by blacks against whites.
Details of the killing have heightened concerns about security for the World Cup, which South Africa is hosting in June, and AWB Secretary-General Andre Visagie warned countries against sending their soccer teams to "a land of murder."
South African officials, meanwhile, are urging people to resist racial incitement and insisting that the killing has no bearing on security ahead of the World Cup.
"I can say that with the plans we have put in place, with our tough stance in the fight against crime, we are starting to see the results," police minister Nathi Mthetwa said. "There will be no person who commits a crime in South Africa and kill people or a person, and get away scot-free without the full might of the law."
Always lurking beneath the surface in South Africa, race has moved to the front burner again in recent weeks as the country's high court ordered a leader of the ruling African National Congress party's Youth League, the outspoken Julius Malema, to stop singing a liberation-era song called "Kill the Boer" at his political rallies. Boer is a Dutch word for farmers, and was long considered to be synonymous with all whites.
Several political parties, farm unions, human rights groups and individuals have warned that Malema's recent performances of the song at rallies are stirring up old racial grudges, and they said that Terreblanche's killing didn't come as a surprise.
Johannes Moller, the president of Agri SA, who represents South Africa's biggest commercial farmers union, said that white Afrikaaners wouldn't retaliate for what he called the "barbaric killing."
"We are not going to (seek) revenge, but we see this killing as a politically motivated farm murder," said Moller. "Terreblanche was a prominent commercial farmer, and this is a huge blow to the commercial farming industry. May I also take this opportunity to appeal to all political parties in the country, especially the ruling African National Congress (ANC), to ensure that its people refrain from inflammatory political statements."
Democratic Alliance (DA) President Helen Zille said that the killing of Terreblanche inevitably would polarize and inflame passions in South Africa that already are running high.
"This could have tragic consequences, and it is essential that all leaders stand together now, and call for calm," said Zille. "Violence has never been a solution to South Africa's enormous challenges. Now, more than ever, we must resist racial polarization, and continue to build the non-racial middle ground of people who want a peaceful and prosperous future for all."
She said the singing of songs such as "Kill the Boer" by Malema has created a climate in which violence is seen as an appropriate response to problems, whether personal or collective.
"These words have been correctly described by the courts as hate speech," said Zille. "We urge all South Africans to stand together and reject incitement and threats of violence, that could destroy our capacity to build a shared future."
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu challenged other political parties not to use the Terreblanche's killing for political mileage.
"We condemn this killing in the strongest terms, because no person deserves to be killed regardless of the reasons that could be advanced in justification of the murder," said Mthembu. "The ANC views this as a matter to be handled by our law enforcement authorities. We call on all South Africans and all political parties not use Eugene Terreblanche's death to polarize our nation."
He said the ANC is appealing to all South Africans to refrain from making speculative pronouncements about the killing.
"Racism is still much alive in South Africa, and this matter must be handled with care, otherwise racism has a potential of causing bloodshed . . . ." said Temmi Pretoria of the South African Institute of Race Relations. "Already the country's image has been battered, and it has to be corrected now."
Savious Kwinika is a Christian Science Monitor Contributor.