When the court case about “that song” finally gets going in April – that is, if it isn’t delayed by an application from the Putsonderwater Vrouevereniging to also join in the bunfight – it promises to be more complicated and shot through with more agendas and double entendres than a Quentin Tarantino conspiracy flick shown in fast reverse-speed. But we will be there in our best interpretive journalism regalia. For thee, dear reader, for thee. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The South Gauteng High Court is still to start the actual case about those songs. You know the ones, containing that phrase that would appear on the surface to suggest it would be a good idea to point a loaded firearm at an Afrikaans farmer and pull the trigger.
If you remember it was all sparked by Julius Malema during a brief, but eventful visit to the University of Johannesburg. That was almost a year ago now. The case has been set down for early April. As it happens that’s almost exactly 12 months since the North Gauteng High Court ordered Malema not to sing the songs. Two days later Eugene Terre’Blanche was dead. It was a time when the entire country seemed to lose its marbles.
Thursday saw a little pre-trial skirmish. The ANC has decided it wants to be a part of this case. And if the ANC wants in on the action, well then the Transvaal Agricultural Union and the Vereniging van Regslui vir Afrikaans have to get in too. Of course, their arguments and their agendas are all very different.
The TAU and the VRA have a very specific plan in mind. They want to bring evidence about murders on farms in which “these songs were a feature”. That phrase, “a feature” is cunningly calculated to give the lawyers maximum leeway. They don’t have to show that a murder was caused by the songs, just that it “was a feature”.
You’d think that AfriForum, which brought the original case, would be overjoyed to have some allies in the legal arena. But actually it’s not. First, their arrival at this late stage would complicate things and delay matters. Judge Colin Lamont, whose unhappy lot it is to conduct this case, would appear to agree with the body. He asked everyone repeatedly about concerns of a delay. He wanted to know in detail what evidence they would bring. He also wondered aloud about whether a party could get involved just because it has something interesting to say. But his quote of the week came from a brief hearing on Tuesday in which he said, “I don’t want this to proliferate into a mushroom cloud”. Wise man. Unluckily for him, this case is extremely likely to go nuclear, no matter what he does. At some point Malema himself will probably take to the stand, and he’s likely to start the detonation process.
AfriForum is using a very careful strategy. It’s going to suggest, not that someone was killed as a direct result of these songs, but that the songs add to a climate of hostility. AfriForum’s advocate Martin Brassey SC used the analogy of gender labour cases, where a female worker is able to prove there is a working environment hostile to women by pointing to a Playboy pinup on the wall. (Is it possible he won a small bet by getting the name of that magazine into a case involving Malema?)
The ANC’s strategy, on the other hand is a less subtle. “The ANC owns these songs…it has the right to them” says the political party’s advocate, Vuyani Ngalwana. You may have first heard his name when it used to be preceded by the title “pensions fund adjudicator”. He also had a spell representing a certain Judge President of the Western Cape High Court who ran into a spot of bother with the Judicial Service Commission. He’s a hugely engaging character, ready to smile wryly at the odd joke. And it goes without saying, he’s massively intelligent. His argument is also quite compelling: If pushed, the ANC could probably produce evidence, video tapes from MK camps, perhaps reports from certain battles near Namibia, showing that it is indeed the organisation most able to claim ownership of these songs.
Then there was the sight of Ngalwana reciting in his best Afrikaans part of the song “De la Rey”. His point is that if it’s absurd to ban that song because it could be interpreted as a call for Afrikaners to rise up, then it’s absurd to ban the ANC’s songs as well.
However, we did have to stifle a grin when he said, “I grew up in a township. I know these songs were aimed at a system, not at a people.” A township, hey? And we had always thought Bishops was a posh school.
Don’t worry, advocate, we get your drift.
If Ngalwana prevails, what is the point of the ANC’s involvement in this? Is it so that it can give evidence? Will we see Gwede Mantashe or perhaps Thandi Modise in the witness box? And why? To claim ownership of the songs? To fight the good fight on the battlefield of public opinion? Perhaps.
But allow us a moment of cynicism (Us? Cynical? Never! – Ed).
When this trial really gets under way, Malema is going to be the man of the moment in some quarters. Win, lose or draw, he will be the figurehead fighting “White racist monopoly capital”. That will make him politically stronger. And just a couple of months before the ANC Youth League’s conference. If you were Mantashe what would you do? Well, of course, you would remove him from the figurehead position. You copy the boers and, instead of shooting them, you “maak ‘n plan”. And the way to do it is to join the case. Then you can take control of some of the strategy, take some of that support for yourself, thank you very much, and weaken what could have been a useful weapon for Malema. Whichever way the case goes now, it will be difficult, even for someone as self-centred as Malema is, to claim credit or martyrdom exclusively for himself. Remember, the ANC is much bigger than any one of its officials.
As we’ve said many times, Mr Mantashiavelli is a clever operator.
And that means that when this case starts, all the people giving evidence about various songs, under oath, don’t forget, will also have to be careful not to trip each other up. Unless of course, they do so deliberately. We will be there, of course. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.