Kill the 'boer' state of mind
- Chris Vick
- 13 Sep 2011 09:50 (South Africa)
A strange twist of history decreed that the Equality Court would ban the singing of "Kill the boer" on the 33rd anniversary of the day the apartheid regime killed black consciousness leader Steven Bantu Biko.
South Africa wouldn't have an Equality Court if it wasn't for the struggle against "the boers" - the cause for which Biko and thousands others died, whether under the flag of black consciousness, pan-Africanism or non-racialism.
Yet its ruling, in striving to find equality, may in fact have polarised South Africans at a time when we need unity and a real conversation about racism, multi-racialism and how we can all unite to build a non-racial South Africa.
Because ultimately it's not about the Equality Court judgment - it's about the fact that the complaint about a “liberation song” was made in the first place. It's about what it says about the state of mind of the complainant, as much as it is about the singers they are complaining about.
It's about AfriForum's decision to make an issue about a song which has so much historical meaning (to some sectors), and which has to be seen in the context of the hate speech - and, more importantly, hate action - which continues against the majority of South Africans to this day.
It is, to many, about ongoing suppression. How do we commemorate our history if we cannot sing about it? Who tried to rob us of a future, and is now trying to rob us of our past? Who tells us what to remember? And who decides how we should be allowed to remember?
It's understandable to want to protect the rights of minorities. But organisations like AfriForum have an equally important role to play in getting their own constituency to understand racism, to embrace non-racialism and to break the "boer" state of mind.
So if we can't kill the boer, let's at least kill the boer mindset, and what it represents.
AfriForum, and those who regards themselves as "boers" rather than as South Africans, could learn so much from Steve Biko's ability to articulate the interests of a group of people which defined itself primarily in terms of race, and yet embraced and advanced the interests of broader society.
Try this comment from Biko, written in 1978: "Being black is not a matter of pigmentation - being black is a reflection of a mental attitude."
Which begs the question: what kind of South African still regard themselves as a "boer" in 2011 - and why? Who feels threatened by a song about killing the boer if not someone who thinks and acts like a boer?
Try this comment from Biko, also written in 1978: "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed".
Which begs another question: Who is oppressed by defining themselves as "a boer"?
When United Democratic Front activist David Webster, a white South African, was assassinated by "the boers" on May Day 1989, people of all races joined hands to escort his coffin to Johanesburg's West Park cemetery singing “Hamba kahle Mkhonto” , with its telling line: "ukuwabulala wona lamabhunu”. The rough translation is: “We're commemorating how we (Umkhonto we Sizwe) killed boers.”
When Joe Slovo, a white South African Communist Party and Umkhonto we Sizwe leader died in 1995 after decades of campaigning against apartheid, people of all races gathered at Orlando Stadium to again sing “Hamba kahle Mkhonto” - and again wished him well with the line: "ukuwabulala wona lamabhunu”.
And I have no doubt that when Nelson Mandela, one of the architects and advocates of non-racial South Africa, finally passes on after) 27 years in the boers' prison cell, we will also sing “Hamba kahle Mkhonto”. And again we will commemorate "ukuwabulala wona lamabhunu”.
Yes, we sang about killing “amabhunu” during the struggle. We had to - we were at war. But when we sang those songs, we were not saying we were going to kill all whites. We were singing against those who represented what Biko so aptly called "the system" - the evil web of security policemen, SADF soldiers fighting in Angola, apartheid engineers who designed and built separate suburbs, and all those who conspired to deny the majority of South Africans access to political and economic power. The boers.
Denialism was such a strong feature of apartheid - as was a lack of understanding of what our struggle was about.
That same denialism, that same lack of understanding, sadly seems to run so strongly through what defines itself as white South Africa today.
It's about one group of people trying to tell another group of people how it should feel about its struggle against oppression, repression and suppression.
In as much as apartheid denied the majority of South Africans access to Parliament and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, it also denied a minority of South Africans the right to think, to know and to experience. White people, often, had no idea what was being done in their name.
Liberation and democracy gave minorities the right to know and think again. So they shouldn't take it away from themselves. They shouldn't go back to not thinking again. They shouldn't go back to not knowing.
One of the consequences of AfriForum's Equality Court actions is the fact that in trying to "protect" itself and the people who call themselves its members, it has probably done more damage to relations between different kinds of South Africans than singing "Kill the boer" could ever do.
It has angered many who fought for liberation. It has made us feel we are no longer free to sing our songs, to commemorate our history, to celebrate our freedom.
It has made us question the wisdom of our decision to leave intact apartheid icons like the statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria's Church Square and the Voortrekker Monument, within mortar-bombing distance of our own Freedom Park.
To a large extent, AfriForum's insistence in trying to suppress one of our freedom songs has set back the struggle for non-racialism. It has sent a message to the majority of South Africans about how a minority of South Africans think: they have defined themselves as whites first and South Africans second. They think of themselves as boers - and they care not for our history.
AfriForum's own comments after the Equality Court judgment are tellingly selfish: "This is in principle a victory of mutual recognition and respect between communities about the culture of disrespect and polarisation that is propagated by [Julius] Malema," says Kallie Kriel.
Mutual recognition? Ja, baas.
The Freedom Front+ is equally one-eyed, arguing: "Hopefully, the judgment is the first step, of which many still have to be taken, to the recovery of the balance and the promotion of good relationships between all groups in South Africa."
Balance? Ja, baas.
You should be happy when we're singing. It's when we stop singing that you should be worried.
Your remarks have as much empathy and understanding as Jimmy Kruger's comments when it was announced that the boers had killed Steve Biko: "It leaves me cold." DM