Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Monday, 5 April 2010 15:52 UK

Terreblanche killing reopens South Africa race wounds

South African students (file photo)
Young South Africans are mixing more than their parents did

By Peter Burdin
BBC News, Johannesburg

The murder of white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche has reopened many old wounds in South Africa.

As clips of his speeches are played and replayed on news channels, it is chilling to hear the fantasy world he inhabited and his vision of a racially-segregated South Africa destined to fight to its own death.

Seeing him on those TV screens again reminds me of how far South Africa has travelled since those days 20 years ago when he was threatening, in his own words, to take South Africa down into the bowels of hell if blacks were given equal rights.

But let us not forget Mr Terreblanche lost his war.

He even failed to gain the majority support of his own Afrikaner people - he lost in the ballot when FW de Klerk gained majority backing to dismantle apartheid; and he lost in the bullet when his ramshackle army withdrew from Mafikeng in 1994, bewildered and disorientated.

Psychological divisions

A few days after that defeat, then-President FW de Klerk told me: "The races of this country cannot go on hiding from each other. We need to forge a new future together."

24% of South Africans do not speak to people of other races on a typical day
46% "never socialise" with people of other races in their own homes or friends' homes
39% find people of other races "untrustworthy"
59% said they found it "difficult to understand the customs and ways" of people of other races
Source: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

But the scale of achieving Mr de Klerk's vision was enormous.

"Believe me, apartheid worked," said Mamphele Rampele, the widow of Steve Biko, the black consciousness activist who had been tortured to death while in police custody in 1977.

"It was a tremendously successful system which achieved its aim to completely divide the races of South Africa - racially, economically and psychologically," she said.

Just 16 years on, Mrs Rampele's analysis is still a very good starting point to look at race relations in South Africa today.

In those 16 years, we have moved on from a system where I couldn't even go to a restaurant with my black co-workers, where the races were divided into separate suburbs.

As I write this, I am sitting in a cafe in Rosebank, one of South Africa's middle-class shopping malls. I remember when only whites were allowed here, today it is thoroughly multi-racial. Everywhere I look there are whites, blacks, Indians, increasingly Chinese.

To be frank, mixed couples are still rare but these different groups rub along together in a way that feels pretty normal. Certainly normal compared to the apartheid days.

Parallel lives

Let us not restore the myth of the Rainbow Nation though - race is still the hottest of hot potatoes here. It permeates all aspects of life.

The reality seems to be that people tend to bump along leading relatively parallel lives.

Eugene Terreblanche, 2005
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

According to a survey released by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation last year, social divisions still exist.

The survey discovered that 46% of South Africans never socialised with people of other races in their own homes, and only 28% said they would like to talk to members of other races more if they could.

The survey revealed that on an average day, one in four South Africans never spoke to people from other racial groups, and almost 40% generally found other races to be "untrustworthy".

However the survey discovered that the jury is out on which way race relations are heading: Forty-nine per cent believed that race relations in the country have improved since the election which brought Nelson Mandela to power in 1994, while 51% thought they had got worse.

A columnist here wrote recently: "How can we claim to have good relations between the races when the first thing a white man does when he sees a black man is to remember to lock his car door?"

And how can we claim good relations when thousands of white young people emigrate every year because they claim they can't get jobs because black economic empowerment means only black people are getting the work placements?

This is officially the most unequal society on earth, a UN study recently said.

Millions of black people were thrown off their lands into the barren homelands under apartheid, while land reform has barely begun to address that injustice which permeates through the generations.

South Africa is also among the most violent societies outside warzones with 18,000 murders a year - all of that makes for an edgy society and fuels racial tensions.

So race permeates all aspects of life here. That was exploited by the likes of Mr Terreblanche when he stoked up white fears.

Just as it is exploited by the ANC Youth League's Julius Malema when he tells his constituency that white people have stolen all the minerals and need to be thrown off the land and the mines must be taken off them and nationalised.

But for every Terreblanche and Malema, there are millions of South Africans who just want to get on with their lives. There are many shades of opinion between these black and white extremes.

South Africa has achieved so much in its 16 brief years of freedom after 300 years of racial oppression. However we cannot be complacent as the beguiling voices of racial hatred still ring across the margins of this land.

There is a Zulu saying here - Isandla sihlamba esinye - it means that a single hand cannot wash itself - it means people need each other and cannot succeed separately.

For the sake of this fragile country, let us hope that is true.

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