By Michelle Faul Associated Press
JOHANNESBURG — A white politician stormed out of a live TV debate about race relations and a black leader of the ruling African National Congress threw racial epithets at a journalist he kicked out of a news conference.
The fallout in South Africa is ongoing after Eugene Terreblanche, leader of the once-feared AWB paramilitary group, was bludgeoned to death April 3 on his farm, revealing strained race relations 16 years after apartheid collapsed and Nelson Mandela became president, urging all races to come together.
“I am not finished with you,” AWB Secretary General Andre Visagie shouted as he stormed off the local TV talk show, pointing a finger at a black female analyst. Video of the Wednesday night blowup, which erupted after the analyst continually interrupted Visagie and made hand gestures in front of his face, was posted on YouTube and quickly got hundreds of hits. At least four musical remixes were quickly posted on the Internet, including one by a popular South African rapper.
Today there was more.
Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League, held a news conference in which he sang about beating up white farmers, defying a new directive from his own party to stop singing racially polarizing songs. Some whites have blamed Terreblanche’s murder on a song Malema had previously belted out, urging that white farmers be shot.
“How on earth did SA get from Mandela to this guy??” wrote one poster on YouTube, along side a clip of the press conference that had more than 10,000 views.
Malema and Visagie perhaps represent two extremes in this once white-led country where blacks for decades were brutalized and belittled by a racist white minority government. But the aftermath of the Terreblanche killing, which was allegedly motivated by a wage dispute, shows that rage and wounds remain raw among many. Some residents of a black township near Terreblanche’s farm even hailed Terreblanche’s alleged killers as heroes.
“It does really highlight the fact that race relations in our country are an unresolved issue,” said Chris Maroleng, the journalist who was host of Wednesday night’s TV show. “Eugene Terreblanche’s death has opened up a lot of unhealed wounds and unresolved issues in terms of race.”
Maroleng, however, stressed that most South Africans of all races are keen to get along and work together to rebuild the divided nation of nearly 50 million people.
Visagie had become angry when analyst Lebohang Pheko kept interrupting him, asking “Is it still you versus us?” and whether he cared about starving South African children or abused farm laborers. Visagie tore the microphone from his jacket and threw it. Maroleng came between him and Pheko and warned: “Touch me on my studio and you will be in trouble.”
Some who saw the episode sympathized with Pheko. Tshepo Dithipe, a 22-year-old law student, said, “I was actually scared for the woman.” Others thought she provoked Visagie.
“She was not asking questions to find out more,” said Innocentai Mdluli, a 22-year-old anthropology student. “She wanted this man to look raw and barbaric.”
The blowup at Malema’s press conference happened as the ANC youth leader was speaking about his recent trip to neighboring Zimbabwe. He said Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, which is in an acrimonious unity government with hardline President Robert Mugabe, will not find “friendship” with the ANC in South Africa.
“They can insult us here from air-conditioned offices in Sandton. We are unshaken,” he said, referring to the wealthy suburb of Johannesburg.
BBC television journalist Jonah Fisher said Malema himself lives in Sandton. Malema’s eyes got big and he blew up.
“Don’t come here with that white tendency … undermining blacks!” Malema shouted. He insulted Fisher’s manhood, called for security officers to throw the reporter out and said: “Go out, bastard! You bloody agent.”
Malema has found an ear among poor black South Africans disenchanted that their right to vote has not been matched by access to decent housing, jobs, good education and health care. South Africa is the richest country in Africa, yet the ANC has been unable to translate that into better lives for the people.
Only a small black elite has become enormously rich since apartheid ended. Studies show the majority of blacks are worse off financially than they were under the white government.
“Race still matters very much in South Africa … particularly the coincidence between race and inequality, race and poverty and race and unemployment, with the black youth experiencing all those disproportionately,” said Justin Sylvester, a researcher at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa.