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Every South African should be concerned about the EFF’s singing of ‘Kill the boer, kill the farmer’


Craig Bailie holds a Master’s degree in International Studies from Rhodes University and a certificate in Thought Leadership for Africa’s Renewal from the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute. He is the founding director of Bailie Leadership Consultancy.

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.

On Saturday, 29 July, South Africa’s third-largest and opposition political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), celebrated its 10th anniversary at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.

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”.

Failed nation-building

“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.

To the degree that South Africa’s food security is threatened, its national security hangs in the balance. A 2021 Foreign Policy headline put it this way: “No Bread, No Peace.”

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 MarxistLeninist 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.”

In closing, let us be reminded of the confessional poem that originated with German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, following his experience of Nazi Germany:

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


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • P van den Berg says:

    Probably the best article I have read on this issue. There is much to be gained by encouraging diversity. But that is not in his interest – power first, pick up the pieces later.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    The chant is not only racist hate speech, but incites violence and anger.

    It is very obvious that Julius Malema has very serious mental health issues. He has always been a loose canon, seems to be losing all control over his actions. The foaming at the mouth, the distorted face, the screaming and rolling eyes are reminiscent of fanatical leaders over the ages. He has an obsessive hatred for certain white people, Like Johan Rupert, who has done him no harm, and in general hates white people.
    He is obviously driven by an unnatural and uncontrolled hunger for attention and power.
    The man is unstable and dangerous. He is dishonest, defiant and utterly unreasonable in his barbaric approach to getting what he wants.
    The biggest favour the press can do South Africa, is to not give him attention. Not to publish anything about him – not what he says, sings, proclaims. No pictures. He does not deserve our attention or our time. To not be in the limelight will kill him.
    He is the other, the outsider, the intruder in a country where people want to be happy together, to build not break and live in peaceful harmony.
    Our politicians in general prevent us from doing so. But he is the the official enemy of the people of South Africa.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    Good article with valid conclusions.

  • Ron Ron says:

    Good article and true. Sadly, Uncle Julius and his ilk care not one jot or tittle for the future of South Africa as a country, they care solely for power and the gravy train. They think civil war will be fine for them, because they think others will do the dying. That has always been the way of things – little men with a following talking big. He should think on the end of Mussolini. I suppose it is intoxicating and serves some deep seated need, but it is only because they have never been in a shooting war. Once you have been in one, you will never call for it. It resolves nothing.

  • pierrevanrooy says:

    Very good article. Astonishing that this writer and the Poplak clown writes for the same newspaper. Because Poplak finds all of this very funny.

  • William Nettmann says:

    I am not a linguist, but I have my doubts that “Dubul’ ibhunu” can be translated to “Kill the boer, kill the farmer”. According to ChatGPT it means “Shoot the farmer” in English, so I suppose “Skiet die boer” in Afrikaans. I don’t know the full lyrics, so maybe “Dubul’ ibhunu” is repeated, so it could be translated repeatedly too. Maybe someone who knows can set me straight.

    However, as to it being literal or not, I recall in my misspent youth that we referred to the police as “the boere”. Is it not possible that the song is using that meaning, especially with the police being a very tangible expression of the state’s power? It is a song, and thus poetry, after all.

    If one considers this possibility, it then becomes possible that the “shooting” is being aimed at the state, in the person of the government, which is currently the ANC – and that is the EFF’s opponent in it’s struggle, not farmers.

    Now don’t shoot me!

  • Anon Anon says:

    This is a good article but I would ask what have farmers (some) done for the rainbow nation where they still talk about shooting k*ff*rs? (Personal experience amongst farmers in Belfast MP). Some self reflection on both sides is needed…

    • Ben Harper says:

      Really? Are those few (how many, one or two?) standing on a platform saying this to tens of thousands or rabid supporters? Are they broadcasting it across the country with the sole aim of stoking racial hatred and dividing the country for their own selfish needs?

      By all means report them, let them also be prosecuted and I bet, those couple of farmers with feel the full might of the law and will end up in prison as opposed to the red jelly baby who is in parliament and carries on without fear of prosecution.

  • Trevor Forbes says:

    Excellent article. If you haven’t watched it, seek out the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’. Julius Malema and the EFF with these chants provide us with chilling reminders of how genocide can be incited only too easily in an African context

  • Vas K says:

    How can a fully democratic country with a respectable judiciary even think of pandering to Malema’s racial rants? I know he’s a clown but an evil and dangerous one. Not being black, I can imagine what would happen to me if I publicly chanted to kill a section of a currently ruling class. I’m certainly not brave enough to test the boundaries of the judiciary tolerance!

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    As a “white racist bastard” I just want to say that I would have the exact same feeling same regardless of which group in South Africa is the target of such songs.


    And my feelings about any who would sing such songs for their own personal gain at the cost of everyone in our country?

    Disgust. And also sadness for their limitless stupidity and the tragic implications it has for everyone.

    United, we stand – divided, we fall.

    It’s just so bleeding obvious.

  • Johan Buys says:

    If the chant is about incitement, it should, if it were honest, go:

    Target an old white couple on a small holding.

    They will not try that chant with Target a farmer with weapons and a plan, because the attackers are invariably opportunists not “freedom fighters”.

    Show me where a well prepared attack of half a dozen economic freedom fighters went after a defended farmer? They don’t because they can’t and they don’t actually exist as a 3rd 4th whatever force.

    Farm attacks are opportunistic or personally motivated, not political.

  • vick maharaj says:

    How is it possible that with one of the best constitutions in the world, that no action has been taken against this DIC (Dictator in Chief) ?

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