JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A 29-year-old farm worker was convicted Tuesday in the 2010 killing of South African white supremacist Eugene TerreBlanche, but his teenage companion was acquitted in the murder that sparked fears of racial violence.
Chris Mahlangu was convicted of killing TerreBlanche, his employer and a longtime advocate of a separate state for white Afrikaners.
Patrick Ndlovu, 18, who was 15 and present when the crime was committed, was found guilty of housebreaking with intent to steal. The main evidence against him in the murder was ruled inadmissible by the court because police failed to deal with him correctly as a minor.
The killing, coming months before South Africa hosted soccer's World Cup, so raised fears of racial conflict that President Jacob Zuma took the unusual step of issuing a statement in the middle of the night calling for calm.
But while race divisions remain entrenched in South Africa, the TerreBlanche murder case did not become a catalyst for white right-wing violence, as some feared.
TerreBlanche was leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, or AWB, which during the apartheid era had advocated independence for Afrikaners. By the time of his death, the group was politically marginalized.
TerreBlanche was found on his bed at his farm in the northwest province, clubbed to death with his pants pulled down. Both men, who surrendered to police after the killing, pleaded not guilty.
The death came after the ruling African National Congress' youth league president, Julius Malema, had popularized the song "Shoot the Boer," a reference to white farmers. After the slaying, AWB leader Andre Visagie threatened revenge, calling it a declaration of war against whites.
But it soon became evident that the killing was related to a dispute over wages rather than politics, and the AWB failed to mobilize support. Malema was later convicted of hate speech over the song and has since been suspended from the ANC for lack of party discipline.
Several thousand farmers have been violently slain since the end of apartheid, some of them by their own workers, some after similar disputes or during robberies. The deaths have prompted some farmers' organizations and anti-crime groups to claim that white farmers in South Africa are victims of "genocide."
The anti-genocide organization Genocide Watch has expressed alarm at the racial polarization of South African society and the killings of white farmers.
The High Court sitting at Ventersdorp, about 90 miles west of Johannesburg, rejected Mahlangu's claim that he was acting in self-defense and his assertion that TerreBlanche attacked him with a machete. Judge John Horn said there was no evidence for the claim. He also rejected Mahlangu's statement that he had been sexually abused by the farmer.
Horn said nothing justified the brutal attack on TerreBlanche.
Dozens of supporters of the accused and TerreBlanche stood outside the court Tuesday, and a scuffle broke out at one point between the two sides. Supporters of the accused sang "Shoot the Boer" and carried placards with slogans such as "Thank you, Mahlangu" according to news agency reports.
The AWB wear military-style khaki uniforms with a swastika-like emblem. The group launched a bomb campaign before the 1994 elections that ended white minority rule. But after the end of apartheid the group gradually faded into obscurity.
TerreBlanche was granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission over attacks launched by the group during apartheid. In 2001, he was convicted in the attempted murder of a security guard and was imprisoned until 2004.
Photo: Supporters of the two defendants accused of murdering white supremacist leader Eugene TerreBlanche demonstrate Tuesday outside the courthouse in Ventersdorp, South Africa. Credit: Kim Ludbrook / European Pressphoto Agency.