U2 and THAT SA struggle song

Posted on February 15, 2011


Given the latest furore in South Africa about an ANC struggle song, triggered by comments of Bono of U2, I thought it appropriate to again publish something of the background and lyrics and the manner in which these have been distorted and abused, by racist remnants of apartheid and by modern ANC demagogues.

First published March 30, 2010

Kill the farmer, kill the boer.  The courts have ruled that such an expression amounts, in law, to hate speech;  to threatening with death an occupational category of our population.  However, this expression has nothing whatever to do with the ANC struggle song of the exile years that continues to be quoted in this context. [The insistence on this interpretation comes from the so-called “white Right”]

But, according to some reports, the ANC Youth League’s greatest self-publicist, Julius Malema, has introduced his own words, referring, for example, to some people now committing rape.  The struggle song in question contained no such reference.

Given the level of emotion generated and the degree of distortion and misrepresentation about terminology and history, it is high time, perhaps, to provide a dose of historical fact to at least set the record straight.  And the first fact is a simple one of language:  nowhere, even in the recently quoted references accusing this song of hate speech, does it refer to the word “kill”.

The song actually starts with the words:  Shaya amabhulu (Xhosa) or amaBhunu (Zulu) which translates as Hit the the amaBhulu/Bhunu.  The refrain goes on to call to shoot the amaBhulu/Bhunu (Awudubule (i)bhulu/bhunu.

During the exile years — and later —  even when speaking English or Afrikaans, the terms amaBhulu/Bhunu, tended to be used by ANC members, along with the occasional synonyms, “Boere” or “Boers”.

These terms had nothing whatever to do with any occupational category, let alone farmers.  They referred to an enemy that comprised racist supporters of apartheid, most of whom had probably never even spent any time on a farm. And for many years — with both pride and conviction — I sang that song, all too often at funerals, but also on high days and holidays.

Yet, to use the polite township term, I am pale in complexion.  In other words, my apartheid era identity card classified me “white/blanke”.  But I was — and remain — fiercely anti-racist as, indeed are a tiny number of equally melanin-deprived farmer friends of mine.

We should also never forget that the hardline racist elements within the apartheid state always referred to themselves as Boere.  This was a hearkening back to myths surrounding the war of 1899-1902 and, once again, had much to do with emotion and little to do with fact.  Lest we forget:  both black and white fought on both sides of that conflict, although white racism eventually triumphed.

So, in the narrowest sense, Boere, Boers, amaBulu/Bhunu were identified with the most virulently racist group of Afrikaner nationalists, a term they had adopted themselves and which was readily taken up by the opposition.  Indeed, the opposition extended the term to comprise all who allied themselves with that social/political segment.

Within some circles who used the song calling out to hit or shoot the Boere, there were undoubtedly racial overtones.  But this could hardly apply when people whose skin contained varying degrees of melanin, and who came from different social backgrounds, stood shoulder to shoulder, singing about their common hatred of racism.

That then, is the origin of the song, a song of defiance about a racist enemy that had forcibly removed millions of people, detained, tortured and murdered its opponents with impunity and driven many thousands into exile.   It was a song of pride and of determination to defeat an enemy that represented a crime against humanity.

That it subsequently came to be used — first by the late, demagogic Peter Mokaba and then by Julius Malema — in a way that implied much more than its original intention, is not the fault of the song, but of the individuals who chose to abuse it for their own ends.  We should accept the origins and purpose of the song and its original lyrics while condemning the rabble rousing distortions perpetrated by the likes of Malema and his ilk.  Increasingly, it is they who seem to fit the mould of the amaBhulu.

Posted in: Commentary