VENTERSDORP, South Africa – A court found a black farmworker guilty on Tuesday of murdering a white supremacist in rural South Africa. A younger farmworker was acquitted of murder, but found guilty on other charges.
The two black farmworkers were accused of beating 69-year-old Eugene Terreblanche to death with an iron rod in April 2010. The verdict ends a case that has lasted two years and fanned racial tensions in Ventersdorp, west of Johannesburg.
Protesters scuffled outside the courthouse where the verdict was read Tuesday. Scores of white protesters gathered in support of Terreblanche's family facing off against a larger crowd of black supporters of the accused. But the tensions did not explode into broader violence, and the crowd showed little reaction to the verdict.
In his verdict, Judge John Horn said that according to witnesses, the "dispute with the deceased was about money, not about his political beliefs or aversion for black people."
Horn said evidence shows Chris Mahlangu, whom he found guilty of murder, went to Terreblanche's farm to rob and kill him. He said it was likely the other accused, who was younger than Mahlangu, merely followed Mahlangu and took no active part in the assault.
The younger suspect, Patrick Ndlovu, was acquitted of murder but found guilty of breaking and entering with intent to steal. Ndlovu initially was not named because of his age. He turned 18 during the trial.
Police have described Terreblanche's murder as the climax of an alcohol-fueled dispute over unpaid wages. But during the trial, defense lawyers alleged the farmworkers had been abused by Terreblanche and acted in self defense.
Terreblanche had been jailed in 1997 and sentenced to six years for the attempted murder of a black security guard and assaulting a black gas station worker.
Judge Horn rejected allegations that Mahlangu had been sexually abused by Terreblanche. The defense attorneys say their case was weakened by poor police work. A substance believed to have been semen that witnesses reported seeing on Terreblanche's body apparently was not preserved as evidence.
Terreblanche co-founded the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, known by its Afrikaans initials as the AWB, to seek an all-white republic within South Africa. His influence had waned by the time he died.