Arguably, the most notable aspect of the celebration was party president Julius Malema’s leading of the 95,000-strong crowd in chanting an apartheid-era struggle (or liberation) song called Dubul’ ibhunu (Kill the boer, kill the farmer”).
This wasn’t the first time that Malema or EFF members chanted “kill the boer, kill the farmer.” During his tenure as ANC Youth League president, Malema repeatedly sang the song at several youth league gatherings. After AfriForum opened a case against Malema in the Equality Court, Judge Colin Lamont gave his verdict in 2011, finding Malema guilty of hate speech.
More recently, in October 2020, EFF supporters sang the same song outside the Magistrates’ Court in Senekal in the Free State amid racial tensions that ensued between the EFF and local farmers after the murder of farm manager Brendin Horner. AfriForum again opened a case in the Equality Court against the EFF and Malema. In August 2022, Judge Edwin Molahlehi ruled that “Kill the boer, kill the farmer” is not hate speech.
Whatever the decisions of those presiding over South Africa’s justice system may be, there are at least five reasons that every South African, including members of the EFF, should be concerned about “Kill the boer, kill the farmer”.
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” The same applies to countries. The fact that the president and self-proclaimed commander-in-chief of South Africa’s third-largest political party can lead thousands of fanatical followers in a highly divisive chant is a sign of South Africa’s failed nation-building project.
The South African Human Rights Commission’s trend analysis report for 2020/21 suggests that “racism continues to thrive in South Africa”. More recently, Dr Gregory Houston, chief research specialist with the Human Sciences Research Council, said at a dialogue on “Race and Racism in Post-apartheid South Africa” that South Africans are becoming more racist.
Whatever the successes or failures of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) may have been, it was always going to be unrealistic to view the TRC as anything more than a step in South Africa’s long journey towards racial reconciliation and national unity.
It may be true that sincere efforts to encourage reconciliation and cultivate cohesion among South Africa’s population groups have and continue to exist across civil society actors (see here and here, for example). For such efforts to yield the desired returns on a national scale, however, they must exist within a broader context of good governance and be complemented, rather than eroded or detracted from, by the words and deeds of the country’s mainstream political players.
Words have power
Among South Africans who identify as Christian (more than 80% of the population), some, perhaps many, will be familiar with the proverb: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
In his TEDx talk of 2019, medical consultant Mike Turner argues that how healthcare professionals speak to one another while on the job is a significant determinant of the quality of healthcare. Rudeness can be fatal. Civility can save lives. The same can be true beyond the health sector.
According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003, “violent song lyrics may lead to violent behaviour”. Perhaps what ensued outside the EFF headquarters in Johannesburg on the Wednesday following the party’s anniversary celebrations was an illustration of this. EFF members violently chased from the party’s offices Afrikaans-speaking men who wanted to attend Malema’s scheduled press briefing.
The potential for communication, including speech, to cause harm increases to the degree that the communicator has influence and reach. This is why, what and how leaders communicate through their words and deeds are of paramount importance.
Whether the message that a leader intends to communicate to an audience is what the audience hears depends not only on the leader’s communication competence but also on how the recipients of the communication interpret and perceive the leader’s communication.
Who the individual is cannot be separated from the actions and behaviours of those who make up the collective.
Judge Molahlehi and Malema’s arguments that “Kill the boer, kill the farmer” should not be taken literally may prove to be little if any consolation to those who feel victimised or threatened because of the singing of the song. Not everything that is legally permissible is beneficial. Apartheid’s victims will be aware of this.
How do “boers” and “farmers” interpret “Kill the boer, kill the farmer?” How do EFF members interpret it? A liberal or generous interpretation of the slogan becomes challenging when one considers Malema’s words at the EFF’s third Western Cape Provincial People’s Assembly in 2022, cited further below.
National security depends on food security
Where “boer” and “farmer” are understood as terms referring specifically to those responsible for the successful management of agriculture in South Africa, and to the same degree that “Kill the boer, kill the farmer” is literally interpreted and acted upon, South Africa’s food security becomes jeopardised.
Research by Stellenbosch University PhD graduate Kandas Cloete reveals that 20% of farmers surveyed in her study plan to exit agriculture in the next decade. According to Cloete, a combination of factors determines the decision to quit farming. Among these are “access to dependable labour, uncertainty about land reform, [and] rural safety concerns”. It is conceivable that calls to “Kill the boer, kill the farmer”, however intended, will encourage an exodus of South African farmers from the sector, if not from the country.
In 2011, The Guardian described how the northward move of South Africa’s white farmers was reminiscent of the Great Trek. At the time of publication, 70 farmers were operating in Congo-Brazzaville and 800 in Mozambique. Among other countries in search of South African farmers were Zambia, Sudan and Libya. Earlier in 2023, The Economist reported that “white South African farmers are thriving in Mississippi”.
From this strategic vantage point, a threat against or attack on any farmer in South Africa is an attack on South African society.
An attack on one is an attack on all
Irrespective of an individual or an organisation’s intent, culture or history, the chanting of “Kill the boer, kill the farmer” in a constitutionally founded South Africa remains an affront not only to whoever is identified as a “boer” or “farmer” at any given moment or in any given space. A song or slogan such as this constitutes an attack on the entire social fabric of South African society when viewed from the perspective of Ubuntu.
At its core, Ubuntu is a philosophy that recognises “I am because we are”. In other words, the existence, experience (whether perceived or real) and behaviour of a, or the collective, has implications for, or can even determine, the experience of the individual.
Read more in Daily Maverick: No singing matter – the ‘Kill the Boer’ song belongs to a different era
Who the individual is cannot be separated from the actions and behaviours of those who make up the collective. Consider the effects of the apartheid government on black South Africans or the effects of the ANC government today on every South African.
Simultaneously, we must remember that the “we” cannot exist without the “I”. As much as I am because we are, it is also true that we are because I am. Every nation or community is a collection of individuals.
The strength of a group is established and grows to the degree that the group accommodates and empowers the individual so that he/she, exercising his/her skills and talents, can make the best possible contribution to the group or collective. A group’s success depends, among other things, on its leaders appropriately balancing the needs of the individual with those of the group.
No individual or group must make the mistake of thinking that only ‘boers’ or ‘farmers’ fall within the scope of the revolutionary killing that Malema speaks about.
Whether one recognises and accepts this interdependence between people or not does not change the truth of it. Although it’s a truth that transcends time, its implications are more evident and consequential in a globalised world. This is a world where, increasingly, a diversity of views, ideologies, religions and ethnicities have come to occupy the same space. Does anyone remember the Rainbow Nation?
There is no denying that governing a society as diverse as South Africa is a challenging task. Whether the ANC has ever made a sincere effort at such an endeavour is for another discussion.
Whatever the case may be, the cultivation of unity in diversity enhances the strength of a nation, possibly even beyond that characterising more homogeneous societies.
Several studies reveal that if properly managed, there are benefits that can accompany diversity in an organisation. Among these benefits are increased creativity and innovation, improved productivity or performance, enhanced decision-making and greater self-satisfaction. Some scholars argue that diversity is a must.
If diversity can potentially benefit the organisation, why not an entire country? Research by academics from Oxford, Princeton and Birmingham universities suggests that diversity makes countries stronger in the long run.
The implication is that when diversity in a country is not nurtured and valued, or when the dignity or potential contribution of individuals and groups that make for a diverse society are not recognised and respected, those same individuals and groups are more likely to become radicalised, or, given the opportunity, leave the country. The collective gains to be had from diversity are lost. Ultimately, everyone hurts.
Consider three examples: the ANC’s decision to adopt armed Struggle against the apartheid regime; the impact of Operation Dudula on Zimbabweans in South Africa – many of whom have made laudable contributions to the country’s economy; and the growing number of “white” South Africans who are emigrating. Many among this third group are members of the country’s middle class – a key constituency for job creation and democratic stability.
The slogan has its roots in Marxist-Leninist ideology
Any political actor whose proclamations and actions are motivated by or founded upon Marxist–Leninist ideology – that set of ideas guiding the EFF – must accommodate the possibility, or even strive for the use of violence, including on a national scale.
This much is evident in Malema’s address to those attending the EFF’s Western Cape Provincial People’s Assembly in 2022:
“You must never be scared to kill. A revolution demands that at some point there must be killing because the killing is part of a revolutionary act… Anything that stands in the way of the revolution, it must be eliminated in the best interest of the revolution, and we must never be scared to do that.” [sic]
No individual or group must make the mistake of thinking that only “boers” or “farmers” fall within the scope of the revolutionary killing that Malema speaks about.
At the EFF’s 10-year celebration gala dinner, Malema cautioned his fellow party members against trying to organise against him: “The problem starts when you organise against me and I hear it in the corners. I am very ruthless against such people who organise things against me, so never try that with me.”
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.
The fight for economic freedom in South Africa is a necessary one, but the sloganeering employed by Malema and his followers will only drive the country closer to rather than further from instability and economic ruin. DM