Chris Mahlangu, 28, one of the two farmworkers accused of killing South… (Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters )
Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — The trial of two black farmworkers charged with killing South African white supremacist leader Eugene TerreBlanche opened Monday, underscoring the racial tensions that persist 17 years after democratic election laid apartheid to rest.
As the trial began after months of delays, the two defendants pleaded not guilty.
TerreBlanche, 69, was found beaten to death on his farm last year. Prosecutor George Baloyi told the court the pair found TerreBlanche asleep on his bed and beat him to death with a steel pipe in a dispute over wages. An autopsy indicated he sustained 28 injuries.
A teen, whose identity is being kept confidential under South African law, is charged along with an adult, Chris Mahlangu, 28. Both were employed by TerreBlanche. The minor, then 15, was a herdsman for the militant's 97 cattle.
TerreBlanche founded a pro-apartheid paramilitary group that was prominent in the 1970s and '80s but was a spent force by the time of his death. His name is still a rallying point for the few remaining white supremacists in South Africa.
Earlier hearings saw dozens of supporters turn out to protest the killing, though on Monday only a handful turned out, according to news services.
The youth's attorney, Norman Arendse, told the High Court in Ventersdorp that the boy was terrified of TerreBlanche, saying the white supremacist abused him physically and verbally. He also said there were allegations his client was a victim of sex abuse.
The attorney said his client was being exploited by TerreBlanche as child labor and should have been in school. He said the teenager lived in appalling conditions on the farm.
Arendse said the minor had entered TerreBlanche's home on the day of the murder, but that the victim was already dead.
"On the day in question ... the accused did enter the house of the deceased through an open window.... He was able to say that the deceased had already been killed and this will explain why some blood was found on his clothes. He will deny that he participated in the killing of the deceased, he will deny that he robbed the deceased or sold any items belonging to the deceased, and he will deny attempting to steal the car belonging to the deceased," Arendse told the court, according to the South African Press Assn.
Police officer Klaas Nkathule testified that he received a call from a minor on April 3, 2010, the day of the killing, at dusk. A boy told him that he and a friend had killed TerreBlanche because they had not been paid for a day's work.
The boy told him that they were hiding, afraid of being killed in revenge, the press association reported.
"I asked where he was calling from.... He said, 'We are hiding in a camp near a farm.' He said, 'We want to come to the police station, but we are afraid of whites from other farms, as they may find us and kill us,' " Nkathule told the court.
Arendse said the teenager received partial payment for his day's work and had no dispute with TerreBlanche at the time of the killing.
At earlier hearings, Judge John Horn dismissed initial fears of a political motive behind the death.
"The facts, according to the statements in the charge sheet, show no proof that it was politically motivated," the judge said.