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Culture, Reality

The Happy Clappy Struggle

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / 28.09.2011

iBhunu, the word derived from the Afrikaans plural “boere” meaning farmers; it evolved to refer to the Afrikaner population in general, and then more specifically to the apartheid system and the many forces of oppression that system represented. It became a catch-all phrase for the perpetrators of black oppression. Globally, today, you could equate the term “iBhunu” with “the man”. When one speaks of sticking it to the man, no-one interprets that as a call to physically violate, or cause harm to anything with a raised testosterone level and a penis. It is not viewed as an instruction to grab him by his chino’s and fists him in a dark alleyway. We collectively understand and agree that “the man” is not synonymous with “a man”. The man down the road is not the same person as “the man” who gets “it” stuck to.

Understandably, to someone who isn’t a first language English speaker, idioms and figures of speech could be confusing. When only the basic tenets of speech are recognised, the subtle nuances of language: such as metaphors, sarcasm and irony are open to misinterpretation. And in South Africa’s hyper-sensitive social and political climate; fuelled by a background of capricious taxonomy; classification and re-classification, everything that bubbles to the surface of the social consciousness is subject to a figurative pencil test. Issues of race are racist, and healthy debate is stifled in order to either, a) quell minority fears or, b) pander to the entitlement mentalities of the ruling class. This means that empty demagogic “debate” has taken priority over real and relevant national conversation, lest it offend.

On the 12 of September, on the 33rd anniversary of Bantu Steve Biko’s murder, the Equality Court in effect banned the singing of struggle song “Ayesab’ amagwala”, specifically targeting the phrases “dubul’ ibhunu” (shoot the boer) and “ziyarapa lezinja” (the dogs are rapists). By the ruling, the song, and in particular the aforementioned phases may not be sung by the ANC and its members, in public or in private because they constitute hate speech. In order for something to breach Freedom of Expression, and become Hate Speech, it must provide a reasonable manner in which it could be interpreted as a direct and clear incitement to violence. In its judgement, the court highlighted the importance of context, adding that: “It may be accepted that the reasonable person must be contextualised and that one is not concerned with a purely abstract exercise. One must have regard to the nature of the audience.”

The question then is, would the people hearing the song, singing the song interpret it as a literal call to arms? The ANC thinks not. How it currently stands, they say the “boer” means the oppressor. It is a system or mentality, rather than a person or a group of people. One would have to be fully familiar with the language, with the subtle shading of its use and construction, to aptly evaluate what it connotes. To limit it to a literal translation would be to assume that black languages, namely Zulu, lack the evolutionary sophistication to contain figures of speech, linguistic poetry. That the manner and purpose of communication is plainly directive and obtuse, in a “Me-Tarzan. You-Jane” kind of way. In accordance with the judge’s very rigid interpretation of “Ayesab’ amagwala”, almost every struggle song constitutes hate speech. There’s a huge gap in understanding, stemming from years of separate development, which confines our ability to comprehend each other’s cultures.

In my opinion, Judge Lamont’s ruling shows a misunderstanding of the complexity of language, or rather, an unwillingness to recognise that African Languages can be anything but denotative. But also, his judgement is indicative of a general South African minority mentality. The singing of “Ayesab’ amagwala” sounds to them, like a justification of farm murders, like a call for white genocide. A reasonable insecurity given that in South Africa, being a farmer is one the most dangerous professions. Except farmers aren’t murdered just because they’re white, it’s a far more intricate concoction of race, class, relative deprivation and the often obscure and isolated locations which means that the perps can escape long before the murder can be discovered.

Does this then mean that whiteness is under direct attack? Are black people caged animals waiting for the door to be left slightly ajar, in order for them to grab the opportunity to drive the whites in to the sea? Are we just biding our time, waiting for Mandela and Tutu to die so that we can enact our revenge? No. What we are waiting for however, is for the rainbow clauses that kept us oppressed post-94, to evolve into the Rainbow Nation we over-zealously celebrated and now whore to foreigners and tourists.

Truth is that if there was greater energy invested in our national reconciliation, if more white people spoke an African language, for instance, that would go a long way towards defusing the emotive power of “Ayesab’ amagwala” and populist demagogues like Julius Malema.

Instead, South Africa has no collective history. What one section of our country celebrates as victory, the other mourns as loss. There are no communal heroes. I don’t know if the Equality Court actually had any other option, without the risk of being viewed as unsympathetic to the Afrikaner cause. But is banning a cultural cornerstone of South Africa’s liberation struggle really the lesser of two evils? And what exactly does banning a song achieve? Will this not turn “Ayesab’ amagwala” into an even more exclusive, greedily guarded part of sanctified black heritage?

Less than thirty minutes after Judge Lamont’s ruling, the crowd that had gathered outside the court sang “Ayesab’ amagwala” with an indignation and zeal that hasn’t been felt since the bad old days of apartheid.

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