South Africa has been glued to the TV this week, watching an important trial whose outcome has the potential to have unpleasant ramifications no matter what the verdict.
The trial is about whether a song sung by anti-apartheid groups before democratic change came to South Africa in 1994, can now be construed as a hate song. The head of the African National CongressYouth League (ANCYL), Julius Malema, has been taken to court by the Afrikaner group, AfriForum, to stop him singing the struggle song Dubul'ibhunu, translated as "Shoot the Boer". Afriforum claims that the song incites Blacks to act against White Afrikaners, using as part of its evidence the thousands of mainly Afrikaner farmers who have been murdered since 1994. Malema and the ANCYL claim that the song is part of the heritage of the struggle against apartheid and should be allowed – that the words are symbolic and not intended to be taken literally.
At face value the trial is about the inevitable clash between freedom of expression and hate speech – not a new clash by any means.
What makes this trial out of the ordinary is the personality of Julius Malema, his bravado, his contradictions, and his influence. JuJu, as Malema is known, has a very confrontational style. For example, the he continued to sing the song despite a high court interdict that called on him not to do so. And when he arrived for this trial in the Equality Court, he arrived wearing a snappy white suit with Winnie Mandela on his arm, and a bodyguard toting semi-automatic weapons surrounding him. After the end of one day’s proceedings, he went outside and sang to the melody of the song in question the words “Shoot to kill, kiss the boers.”
To this observer, JuJu’s style is designed to rally the many jobless people in South Africa by insinuating that the problems of the country are easily solvable if ….
…if the mines are nationalized, for example. Not in itself an idea without merit – why should a country not benefit to the maximum from its own resources? But it easier to shout ‘nationalize the mines’ than it is to put in place a mechanism to make the mines work under a national oversight.
…if you redistribute the land, which could only happen by amending the Constitution’s willing buyer, willing seller position. Obviously the more wealthy people (predominately White) in South Africa are particularly sensitive to this because of the total fiasco of land distribution in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Some of the continents most productive agricultural land was given to Mugabe supporters who had no farming skills whatever. From an exporter of food Zimbabwe became a nation of hunger.
…if you have more babies.
…if you lower the unemployment rate.
And so on. What is particularly amazing to me is this man of the masses lives the high life, with expensive cars, expensive property, etc., but is still the hero of the masses.
Many Whites regard Malema as an idiot. He is far from that, but many of his pronouncements and his style frighten them. And if more Whites decide to emigrate, there is a good chance investment in South Africa could slow down, which would put more people out of work (currently unemployment is between 25% and 30%).
So in a sense what should be a freedom of expression versus hate speech trial, has become a platform for much broader political issues.
What concerns me is what may happen after the trial. If JuJu loses, he is not going to sit down and accept the verdict meekly. If he wins, not only will the Afrikaners fear that his supporters will take the song seriously, but he is likely to become more confrontational, just when accommodation is needed.
While all of this is taking place, local elections are around the corner. And for the first time, voters are questioning the ruling African National Congress party's ability to run towns and cities efficiently. Endless gatherings are happening to protest lack of basic services, to protest corruption. I think the monolithic ANC may lose many municipalities. Good for democracy, I think, but I wonder how the ANC supporters will react.
We’re in a fascinating and pivotal period in South Africa’s political history. Watch this space.
Stan - Thursday