Page last updated at 19:53 GMT, Sunday, 4 April 2010 20:53 UK

Terreblanche death brings Zuma appeal for calm

Followers of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terreblanche gather in Ventersdrop, 140km West of Johannesburg, South Africa, Sunday April 4, 2010.
AWB members have been paying respects to their murdered leader

South African President Jacob Zuma has called for calm after white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche was killed.

Mr Zuma told the nation he was shocked by the news and urged unity. He sent condolences to the Terreblanche family.

Police have arrested two farm workers who they say beat Mr Terreblanche to death in a dispute over wages.

Mr Terreblanche's far-right movement is urging its members to be calm. It says his murder has political overtones, a claim the governing ANC rejects.

'Sad day'

President Zuma went on public television to condemn what he said was a "cowardly" murder.

Jacob Zuma, S African President: Leaders must "unite in the call for calm"

He said he had spoken to the daughter of Mr Terreblanche and hoped to speak to his wife in order to convey his condolences.

"This is one of the sad moments for our country that a leader of his standing should be murdered," he told South Africans.

Earlier, Mr Zuma said South Africans must not let anyone take advantage of the "terrible deed" by inciting racial hatred.

Mr Terreblanche, 69, was attacked on Saturday evening at home on his farm near the town of Ventersdorp, North West province.

Two males, aged 21 and 15, have been charged with his murder, said police.

Eugene Terreblanche in Pretoria in June 2004
1941: Born on farm in Transvaal town of Ventersdorp
1973: Co-founds AWB to protect rights of Boers' descendants
1993: AWB vehicle smashes into World Trade Centre in Jo'burg during talks to end apartheid
1994: AWB invades tribal homeland of Bophuthatswana and is defeated; three AWB men die
1998: Accepts moral blame for 1994 bombings that killed 21
2001: Jailed for attempted murder of farm-worker
2004: Released from prison

His body was found with facial and head injuries on a bed, after he was apparently attacked with a machete and a wooden club.

Mr Terreblanche came to prominence in the early 1980s, campaigning for a separate white homeland and championing a tiny minority determined to preserve apartheid.

The BBC's Karen Allen in Johannesburg says the murder comes amid growing anxiety about crime in South Africa.

Opposition politicians linked the death to racially inflammatory sentiments from a minority of the ruling ANC party.

During a news conference in Ventersdorp on Sunday, South African Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa cautioned against stoking tensions.

"We call on all South Africans across whatever divide - across the racial divide, across the political divide - to desist from making any inflammatory statements which are not going to help anyway on the case we are dealing with," he said.

Meanwhile, relatives and friends of Mr Terreblanche gathered near his home to pay their respects.

His Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement - AWB) echoed Mr Zuma's call for calm.

AWB spokesman Andre Visagie said: "We will decide upon the action we are going to take to avenge Mr Terreblanche's death," adding that next steps would await a party meeting in May.

He earlier blamed the killing on the recent singing of an apartheid-era song - "kill the Boer, kill the farmer" - by a firebrand ANC leader.

Martin Plaut
Martin Plaut, Africa editor

For most South Africans, Eugene Terreblanche was a throwback to another era. But his death is a blow to the country's image of racial tolerance, fostered so carefully by Nelson Mandela.

Some are likely to believe that the fact that his alleged attackers were arrested so rapidly smacks of a cover-up. Others, on the minority far-right fringe, will see his death as a vindication of their assertion that whites cannot live under black rule.

It is a tragic fact that more than 3,000 white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994. And it is possible that some people may seek retribution.

Mr Terreblanche's funeral could become a rallying point for such sentiment.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said he did not think Mr Terreblanche's murder was politically motivated.

"No one can bring any evidence... linking this song to the death of Mr Terreblanche," he told the BBC.

'Explosive situation'

Last week, South Africa's High Court banned ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema from singing "kill the Boer". It ruled the song was hate speech, but the ANC is appealing.

Boer is Afrikaans for a farmer, but is sometimes used as a disparaging term for any white in South Africa.

A spokeswoman for the opposition Democratic Alliance party, Juanita Terblanche, no relation, said: "[Mr Terreblanche's killing] happened in a province where racial tension in the rural farming community is increasingly being fuelled by irresponsible racist utterances."

The minority party Freedom Front Plus called on people to refrain from reacting emotionally.

"The murder creates an explosive situation and is condemned in the strongest possible terms," party spokesman Pieter Groenewald said.

More than 3,000 white farmers are estimated to have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994.

A committee of inquiry found in 2003 only 2% of farm attacks had a political or racial motive, although critics said this figure was far too low.

Mr Terreblanche had founded the white supremacist AWB in 1973, to oppose what he regarded as the liberal policies of the then-South African government.

His party tried terrorist tactics and threatened civil war in the run-up to South Africa's first democratic elections, before sliding into relative obscurity.

Mr Terreblanche served three years in jail after being convicted in 2001 of the attempted murder of a farm worker.

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