Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Afriforum versus Juju: a storm in a teacup

For the last week or so the media have been dominated by Afriforum’s vendetta against Julius Malema, the leader of the ANC Youth League.

They have brought an action against him in the Equality Court, charging him with “hate speech” for a song that he likes to sing, which has been dubbed by the media as “Shoot the Boer” or “Kill the boer, kill the farmer”. This song, or one similar to it, was apparently popularised in recent times by Peter Mokhaba, at least according to the media, though as far as I am aware none of the media have given the complete words or context of the song, preferring to sensationalise the story by relying on hints and innuendo, and taking mistranslated phrases out of context. There is, however, a web site that says it gives the complete lyrics of the song here. It seems that Afriforum got it wrong even in its particulars of claim, saying that the song referred to “ibhulu”, which means rambling talk or waffling. So, according to Afriforum’s particulars of claim, it is “hate speech” to say “cut the waffle”.

But if the song is a struggle song, as Julius Malema and his supporters claim, and the actual word is “iBhunu”, the Zulu word “iBhunu” does not mean farmer, or anything like it. “IBhunu” originally meant an Afrikaans or (earlier) Dutch-speaking white South African, being the Zulu version of Boer, which is what many of the Afrikaners refered to themselves as. And while it is etymologically derived from the Dutch “boer” (related to the German “bauer”, and English “boor”) it does not, in Zulu, mean “farmer”.

If one reasons like Afriforum (and the media), then Julius Malema and Peter Mokhaba were simply following in the footsteps of Alfred Lord Milner and Joseph Chamerlain, who started what the British themselves call the “Boer War”, and sent hundreds of thousands of British soldiers to South Africa between 1899 and 1902 to kill the boer, kill the farmer.

No doubt the likes of Afriforum would regard the imperialist rhetoric of Milner and Chamberlain as “hate speech” and they would probably be right. The British army certainly killed the wives and children of the farmers in the concentration camps they established as part of their scorched earth policy, as a way of fighting the Boer (farmer) War. Today that would undoubtedly called genocide.

But to look at what happened in the 19th century and the 21st century without looking at what happened in between is to miss a large chunk of the story — what happened in the mid-20th century which gave rise to the song.

And in the mid-20th century the Zulu word “amaBhunu” did not refer primarily to Afrikaners, but rather to the National Party regime with its army and security police, which were charged with enforcing the racist policy of apartheid and crushing opposition to it.

And it was in that context that such songs arose.

I used to sing some myself.

Ayasizonda, ayasizonda,
ayasizond’ amaphoyisa
Ayashis’ imoto yethu
Zasakaz’ izincwadi

(the police hate us, who burnt our car and distributed (smear) letters, sung to the tune of “Clementine”).

Which is similar to the Irish song, which is just as bad:

I don’t mind a bit if I shoot down police
They’re lackeys for war, never guardians of peace
But still at deserters I’ll never take aim
Those rebels who sold out the patriot game.

If Malema’s song is “hate speech”, then surely that is too.

To all accounts, all Afriforum have achieved with their court case so far is to make themselves look silly and Julius Malema look good. Sunday World said:

… it was AfriForum lawyer Martin Brassey who completed the morphing of Malema the loose cannon and reckless buffoon into a martyr for the masses.

This prompted Talk Radio 702 breakfast host John Robbie to remark that Malema had come out brilliantly.

“He didn’t just come out as bright but as very, very bright,” he said.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi would say that if the plaintiffs came here thinking Malema was stupid, then they were underprepared.

The man who walked around with the tag of Village Puppet on his back was so rehabilitated that as he descended the dock to take his place behind his lawyer he got a “well done” pat on the back from ANC NEC member and chief supporter Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as he sat.

“He put up a spirited defence of the song and the struggle,” said Matshiqi. “And it showed up the imprudence of bringing such matters to the courts. All they have succeeded in doing is rehabilitate his image.”

So Afriforum’s efforts have been counterproductive.

It seems that Afriforum and its supporters are the rump of the white right, looking back to the apartheid era as some kind of Golden Age, and among the documents they cited in the case was a report from an outfit called Genocide Watch, which seems to be cited by right-wing conspiracy theorists because what it says about South Africa reflects their views (and that reflects very badly on Genocide Watch).

And perhaps Malema keeps singing the song because he is gratified to see how it annoys right-wing throwbacks like Afriforum’s constituency. It’s like a naughty little boy teasing his sister because the reaction far outweighs the provocation.

The problem that I see with all this is that the court case is between two bunches of buffoons, and at one level is a storm in a teacup that has been hyped into a media circus.

By choosing to fight over a trivial issue, magnified by Afrikaner-nationalist conspiracy theorist rhetoric (which is amplified by organisations like Genocide Watch), Afriforum and their supporters (and the media who report on such things) miss the real danger, which is Malema’s uncritical support for dictators like Robert Mugabe, which bodes ill for the future of South Africa’s democracy. Should Julius Malema ever become president (and if he does, he will have Afriforum to thank for giving him a big boost along the way) then if he behaves like the tyrants he so publicly admires, he will himself have become an iBhunu, like Verwoerd, Vorster, Smith and Mugabe.

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