NAIROBI, Kenya April 9, 2010 -- Helicopters hovered overhead and police were out in force today as thousands of mourners gathered for the funeral of South African white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche who was laid to rest in his home town of Ventersdorp South Africa.
Nearby, South Africa's largest trade union called a meeting of the black farm workers and other poor blacks living in Ventersdorp to try and ensure there would be no racial confrontation.
Despite the fears that violence could break out, the service to bury Terreblanche, a man who avowed racial separatism and served prison time for savagely beating a black security guard nearly to death, was peaceful.
Terreblanche's funeral ended a week of turmoil in South Africa which threatened to turn into what some feared would be a "race war." Much to the relief of the country's leadership, the fallout from Terreblanche's murder turned out to be more of a political brawl, than a physical one.
The South African government is working to paint a positive image of the country before it hosts the 2010 World Cup in June, something that would've been nearly impossible to do had racial warfare broken out less than 90 days before the World Cup play begins.
Still after Terreblanche was bludgeoned to death last Saturday by two black farm workers over an apparent labor dispute, leaders of his white separatist party, Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, also known as AWB, said that the act showed how racially divided the country still is.
"It is a pure political murder" AWB spokesman Pieter Steyn told reporters this week outside the courtroom where the two suspects, aged 28 and 15 were being charged. Police were forced to intervene between blacks and whites, hurling racial insults at each other.
Professor Steven Friedman, a South African political analyst and commentator, believes that the killing of Terreblanche "says absolutely nothing about race relations in South Africa right now," he told ABC News. "No one yet has been able to show a shred of evidence that this murder was racially motivated. These are criminal acts."
Reaction to White Supremacist's Death Has Been Racially Charged
Instead, said Friedman, it's been the reaction that's been infused with racial politics.
The AWB and other political opposition leaders blame Julius Malema, the African National Congress ruling party's youth leader, for stoking racial hatred by singing an apartheid-era struggle song, "Kill the Boer (white farmer)" at the party's rallies. While President Jacob Zuma condemned the murder as a "terrible deed" and called for calm in the country, critics say that's not enough.
"We want Jacob Zuma to stop Malema because he is agitating for a revolution. Malema makes inflammatory and racist statements all the time... he is trying to create racial hatred," said Steyn, who again asked for white South Africans to have their own "homeland" because the "failure of this new South Africa."
Malema, who recently faced corruption accusations for his lavish lifestyle, remains a controversial figure. The ANC has asked members not to sing the song anymore, which political analysts say is a direct rebuke to Malema. But the ANC leader continues to cause a firestorm. When asked Thursday by a BBC reporter whether he was stoking racial tension, he cursed at the journalist and kicked him out, calling him a "bloody agent."
Despite the controversy surrounding Malema's actions, Friedman, who heads the University of Johannesburg's Center for the Study of Democracy, says the idea Terreblanche's murder was caused by a racially charged song is a fallacy.
"I don't agree with the argument because it implies we had some sort of happy existence beforehand," he says. "I don't think anyone who understands South Africa could argue that race relations have been fine since 1994."
But he adds that tension doesn't necessarily have to translate into racial violence and rarely has. Critics of the ANC -led governments since the end of apartheid, point to the country's high crime rate as evidence of a new form of racial violence, citing the statistic that 3,000 white farmers have been murdered since 1994. But the statistics for black on black crime are much worse, with numbers ranging as high as 50 murders committed per day in black townships.
South Africa's Race Relations Uneasy 16 Years After Apartheid Ended
Sixteen years after the end of apartheid black and white South Africans may not like each other, but they are learning to co-exist uneasily. The reaction to the murder of one of the country's most controversial white supremacist leaders actually proves just how far South Africa has come, says Friedman.
"People are really polarized in racial camps, but it hasn't lead to violent acts," he says. "They tear each other's hair out with words, rather than fists, and they certainly don't use weapons to settle racial differences. I don't see that trend changing."