It’s hard now to remember what South Africa was like exactly a year ago. We were indeed, for a while, a different country. One that seemed more like that other place of pre-1994. And now we’re going to have a rehash some of those emotions - fear being one of them. Thankfully though, it will remain within the comparatively dry confines of the law. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
For many reasons 2010 was a momentous year, but one of them was what happened in the run-up to the murder of AWB leader Eugene Terre’blanche. Julius Malema was under huge pressure. City Press had run story after story about his business interests, peaking in a claim that he owed SARS millions. Then came a joint investigation with Eyewitness News in which it emerged the ANC Youth League had its own spy, one Michael Peega, who was tapping phones and manipulating bank account information to get back at journalists. In the middle of all this, Malema started singing an old song. Its real name is “Awudubele ibhunu”. It’s not really one song, but a collection of different ones. They’ve become known nowadays as the “Kill the boer” songs. Whether they do, in fact, say “kill the boer” is a matter of some contention.
The impact of this was electric. It became a national cause célèbre, and wherever you went people were talking about it. Eventually AfriForum went to the North Gauteng high court and asked a judge to stop Malema from singing it. The case went on into the evening, and eventually the judge said Malema was no longer allowed to sing the song until the Equality Court ruled on the matter. By then Malema was in Zimbabwe, and his response was to immediately give it a whirl. Just hours later, Terre’blanche was dead. A victim of a farm murder. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Now those slowly turning wheels of justice have finally arranged a full and proper hearing on the matter, which will start on Monday.
There are some legal technicalities with which we should start. Firstly, the ANC and Malema have now joined their cases, so there will be only one legal team representing them. As we’ve said before, this is really Gwede Mantashe making sure Malema doesn’t get to use the occasion for political leverage. At the same time, several organisations have joined on the side of AfriForum – some of them will help the organisation, some may not. Either way, we’re going to have a nice bunfight when we finally get going.
This case is about law, and the relatively new law of the Equality Act. But it will really be about public opinion. Which is why we’ve also said there should be a long national debate on this, which, if it’s appealed all the way, is what we’re probably going to get. However, in what we have to commend as a really cunning move, AfriForum launched the first media volley on Thursday. They held a press conference on the trial. They handed out documents, spoke wisely and well, and generally got their message out early. They gave everyone a nice bundle, with all the court documents, nicely laid out, the submissions of Mantashe and Malema among them. The cherry on the top, a packet of mints and a ribbon around the box. They’ve also appointed a new media officer specifically for the trial, someone to inform/spin on an hourly basis, and they plan to have their own updates emailed to journalists who miss some testimony twice a day. The piece de resistance; An application at the start of the trial to record the testimony for their “Internet radio station” (read: an application to make sure everyone gets to hear the sound of Malema in the witness box under oath). All of this is perfectly legal, the documents are publicly available, but they know hacks are too lazy to get them themselves. (Sometimes, that is.)
The documents are fascinating. The ANC doesn’t hold back in its legal submissions, using the world’s best Latin to suggest that perhaps AfriForum isn’t really an “organization dedicated to protecting civic rights within the context of the Constitution”. It also, predictably, but perfectly correctly, disputes that anyone could find these songs threatening. It mentions their history, the ANC’s commitment to non-racism, and how “ibhulu” doesn’t mean “boer” in this context, but really “apartheid”.
Julius Malema, of course, goes further. He says “I also dispel as unfortunate the notion that when these songs are sung, they will in some way inspire others to hurt, harm or hate whites or ‘boers’. I believe that this notion can only be founded upon a belief that the majority of black people are so gullible to the extent that they would simply mistake a liberation song for a call to war against their fellow citizens.” Before you check whether Google Translator does Latin (it does) he means “You’re a bunch of racists for thinking black people are so stupid they’ll listen to this song and then kill people”.
Then we have a submission from Derek Hanekom, deputy science and technology minister himself. Nelson Mandela’s minister of agriculture and land affairs (Madiba was cunning, wasn’t he?). Well-known senior ANC member. Afrikaner. Obviously, it’s the last bit that’s important. And while Hanekom may have chaired the ANC disciplinary committee that spanked young Julius last year, here he is in support of his party and, by default, the young lion. He says, “I wish to state for the record that I do not feel threatened when ANC members sing this song. I sing it as a member of the ANC with a clear conscience that it is not sung with the intention to incite or threaten any person or group of persons”. While we’re here, for the record, I have been present while Malema and others have sung the song, and didn’t feel threatened either.
AfriForum claims this case is going to be the biggest political trial since Jacob Zuma spent some time in the same court building in 2006. That sounds like hyperbole, but this case has all the ingredients to explode. It’s about Malema, race and the ANC. The ANC has to defend these songs while also saying to the people “Vote for us, all of you”. The Jimmy “over-concentration of Coloureds in the Western Cape” Manyi affair won’t help. It’s also about the protections afforded to minorities. In other words, it’s likely to be a humdinger. The days of April 2011 will not be near as mad as April 2010, but important they will be. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
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