VENTERSDORP, South Africa — Followers of one of South Africa's most notorious white supremacists cast his death as a rallying point for their cause Sunday, with one top member claiming his brutal death was "a declaration of war" by blacks against whites.
Eugene Terreblanche's supporters blamed his slaying on a ruling party official's performances of an apartheid-era song that advocates killing white farmers. Police, however, say it appeared to be a wage dispute that led two of Terreblanche's farm workers to bludgeon him in his bed Saturday.
South African officials are trying to ward off any rise in racial tensions 10 weeks before their country of about 50 million enters the global spotlight as host of soccer's World Cup. President Jacob Zuma appealed for calm following "this terrible deed" and asked South Africans "not to allow agent provocateurs to take advantage of this situation by inciting or fueling racial hatred."
Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa said Terreblanche was attacked by a 28-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy, both black. Mthetwa said they were arrested and would appear in court Tuesday on murder charges.
Terreblanche, a bearded, charismatic 69-year-old, co-founded and led the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement, better known as the AWB, which seeks an all-white republic within mostly black South Africa. Its red, white and black insignia resembles a Nazi swastika, but with three prongs instead of four.
Terreblanche emerged in the 1970s to the right of South Africa's apartheid government, and had threatened to take the country by force if white rule ended. He was known to arrive at meetings on horseback flanked by masked bodyguards dressed in khaki or black.
After serving six years in prison for attacking two black workers, he re-emerged in 2004 with renewed vigor for his cause. He lived in relative obscurity in recent years on his farm outside Ventersdorp, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Andre Visagie, a top AWB member, said Terreblanche's face had been bludgeoned beyond recognition. He said his group would avenge Terreblanche's death, but he gave no details.
"The death of Mr. Terreblanche is a declaration of war by the black community of South Africa to the white community that has been killed for 10 years on end," Visagie said.
He also said the group will urge soccer teams to avoid the World Cup out of safety concerns.
Visagie would not say how many people belong to the AWB. At the height of its influence in the early 1990s, it was believed to have no more than 70,000 members.
Visagie echoed other members of the group in blaming African National Congress Youth Leader Julius Malema, saying he spread hate speech that led to Terreblanche's killing.
Malema incited controversy last month when he led college students in a song that includes the lyrics "shoot the Boer." Boer means white farmers in Afrikaans, the language of descendants of early Dutch settlers, or Afrikaners, and is often a derogatory term.
The song sparked a legal battle in which the ruling ANC party challenged a high court that ruled the lyrics as unconstitutional. The ANC insists the song is a valuable part of its cultural heritage and that the lyrics – which also refer to the farmers as thieves and rapists – are not intended literally and are therefore not hate speech.
Visagie cited the controversy as he dismissed the condolences Zuma offered to Terreblanche's family.
"My message to Jacob Zuma is 'Why, Mr. President, do you offer your condolences to us if you could've repudiated Mr. Malema and prevented the death of Mr. Terreblanche?'"
The ANC defended itself against the claims of Terreblanche's supporters Sunday.
"The black community has never declared war on any other nationality in South Africa," ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu told The Associated Press. "It is in fact incorrect and these are sentiments that fuel polarization of the South African populace."
Malema denied responsibility during an official visit to neighboring Zimbabwe.
"ANC will respond to that issue," he said "On a personal capacity, I'm not going to respond to what people are saying. I'm in Zimbabwe now, I'm not linked to this."
An unknown number of white farmers have been killed since the end of apartheid in 1994, many of them in land disputes. Some critics blame the government's badly organized land reform program and say corruption is a problem. White farmers have also been accused of killing black farm workers.
Terreblanche's killing comes amid growing disenchantment among blacks for whom the right to vote has not translated into jobs, better housing or education.
Some consider themselves betrayed by leaders governing Africa's richest country and pursuing a policy of black empowerment that has made millionaires of a tiny black elite. Millions of blacks remain trapped in poverty, even as whites continue to enjoy a privileged lifestyle.
Mthetwa, the police minister, appealed for calm.
"We call on all South Africans, across whatever divide ... to desist from making any inflammatory statements which are not going to help in any way on the case we are dealing with," he said. "Nobody should obstruct us by what he or she says pertaining to this case."
Relatives and friends of Terreblanche gathered near his homestead Sunday morning to pay their respects. In the nearby black township of Tshing, two police cars were dispatched from the nearest city to patrol.
Lawrence Schlemmer, vice president of the conservative Institute for Race Relations, said he believes Terreblanche's death is a personal matter and would have little impact.
"Eugene Terreblanche has become an increasingly marginal figure," he said, adding, "I think it's a personal tragedy more than anything else. I don't think there's any political significance, although I suppose there will be a measure of sympathy because of the individual circumstances. He's had a rough life, and this is a rough ending."
Associated Press Writers Chengetai Zvauya in Harare, Zimbabwe and Anita Powell in Johannesburg contributed to this report.