Ever since Julius Malema was elected president of the ANC Youth League in Mangaung in 2008, he has, through his pronouncements, managed to get the nation talking. Whether he was saying they, the youth of the ANC, would kill for president Jacob Zuma, then the governing party’s deputy, or when he was reported to have said that the lady in the rape trial of Zuma had enjoyed herself because people who are victims of rape don’t ask for taxi fare, something the lady did. So, when Malema sang “Dubul’ ibhunu” while addressing students at the University of Johannesburg, he sure ‘kicked’ the hornet’s nest and prompted Afrikaner civil rights organisation, AfriForum to file a hate speech case against Malema because of his refusal to accede to their requests that the firebrand leader stop singing the Struggle song.
The case places our Courts in a precarious position because the courts will have to ascertain who of the two opposing parties should be allowed to have ‘their’ way. The fact that the matter at hand deals with the history of the Struggle is accentuates the case. AfriForum says the singing of the song incites violence, one of the limitations set out in the right to Freedom of Expression as contained in Bill of Rights, and cites farm murders as evidence of the dangers of allowing songs like “Dubul’ Ibunu” to be sung. That’s a problematic assertion by AfriForum because they only heard Malema sing the song last year. Let’s say, hypothetically, there’s a link between the singing of “Dubul’ Ibunu” and the killing of farmers, what about all the others years in which farmers were murdered, who takes the blame for that? This case brings to the fore the ignorance of AfriForum’s constituency regarding the history of black people’s struggle for betterment. A struggle that didn’t begin in 1948 when the National Party came into office but one that goes a few centuries deeper. Malema contends that the “bunu” (boer/farmer) in the song isn’t a reference to Afrikaners in a literal sense but rather the political system that guaranteed that they, Afrikaners, were placed in an economically favourable position so as to catch up to their English rivals but that came at the brutal expense of Africans, coloureds and Indians. The ANC also feels that the banning of the song is essentially an attempt at erasing the conditions that inspired the composition of liberation songs. Wouldn’t that amount to historical amnesia, they ask?
It must also be borne in mind that Apartheid was recognized as a crime against humanity. So, any force that served as an antithesis to such a crime can’t be expected to sit by and watch as its legitimate cause, as contained in song and others means, is invalidated and discredited all because a minority of the minority of the population feels uncomfortable. The fact that the song is labelled a struggle song clearly states the era in which was composed and that ought to allay any gripe that ‘aggrieved’ Afrikaners may have because the political struggle that gave rise to those songs is no more. Today the song is a musical repository of sorts. Why didn’t AfriForum request a meeting so that it could be explained to them what the song is about before they ran to the courts? Why seek that a song be banned, will that rescue that social cohesion project that the singing of the song supposedly undermines? Historian and executive director at the South African Democratic Education Trust, Dr Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu says:”These debates (about commemoration) highlight the centrality and importance of History and historical consciousness in our daily discourse as life cannot be lived without a consciousness of a personal past. Also, the commemoration of vivid turning points in our history, including the preservation of liberation struggle songs as part of our oral traditions, cannot be compromised, for these define our social memory in a democratic South Africa.” Another point that has to be appreciated by AfriForum and company is that regardless of how popular the ANCYL president may be, his words aren’t the gospel truth to the ears of the African people. African people actually have the mental capacity to ascertain right from wrong and aren’t a monolith of people who dress, think, act and look alike regardless of how historical narrative may have (mis)represented them. I’d like to think that not every Afrikaner person is swayed by the right wing separatist thinking of the ‘citizens’ of Orania or that of the late AWB leader, Eugene Terreblance. So, why can’t such a benefit of doubt be extended those who listen to Malema? If there’s anyone who ought to fear for their lives it’s the people living in the most crime ridden sections of South Africa: the townships. Violent crimes don’t only affect white farmers, whose murder statistics are eloquently cited by AfriForum and the Steve Horfmeyers of the world. The innocent killing of any person ought to receive as much outcry and publicity as that of the farmer but it would seem in South Africa the farmer’s life is a synonym for sacrosanct.
What is to be remembered and how it’s to be remembered of any people’s history has never been determined by historical victimizers. Imagine the people of post-Holocaust Germany dictating what’s to be remembered by Jewish people, would Jews still commemorate their historical ordeal even today? Or if it was the British who told the Afrikaner to ban their songs from the Anglo-Boer War, would that be appropriate? I wonder if AfriForum has ever thought how Africans feel about the unchanged streets names like D.F Malan, H.F Verwoerd and John Vorster. As offensive as the names of these streets and buildings may be, they are there to remind us not to dare take the democratic project for granted and then end up with leaders like Verwoerd. We have to visit the Voortreker Monuments, Apartheid Museums, the Robben Islands and various Struggle Heritage Routes and stop presenting occasional laughters at Soccer City/FNB Stadium as reconciliation at work. Politicians being politicians can use any situation to suit their desired end and Malema is no different. We ought to be mindful of such tactics especially since it’s election season. Any party on either side of this debate are capable of using this case as a vote collecting exercise more so because of its sensitivity. The legacy of the Struggle isn’t that of the governing party alone and ought to be guarded by all South Africans. To the writers and poets and artists in general, would you agree that the post-1994 struggle also requires “Dubul’ Ibunu” of its own? The poet Don Mattera is right in saying “memory is the weapon”.