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Aluta Continua: the Struggle Song in democratic South Africa

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Picture: Oupa Mokoena / African News Agency (ANA) / 29 July 2023 – EFF President Julius Malema addresses scores of the party’s supporters during its 10th birthday celebration at FNB stadium. Malema led his supporters in singing the well-known struggle song “Kill The Boer” at the party’s tenth year celebration last month, the writer says, adding that a court of law has determined the song does not amount to hate speech.

By Kim Heller

Old patterns die hard. White arrogance and entitlement are alive and kicking in South Africa. Under the hateful racist regimes of apartheid and colonialism, whites dictated both the political and economic power relations and the tongue of the socio-cultural discourse. So comfortably accustomed to telling black people what to think, say and do, many whites still believe that they have a god-given right to define and dictate the nation’s narrative in a “free” democratic South Africa.

White South Africans have found their voice in the new South Africa, and it is no redemption song.

Emboldened by the ANC’s failure to deal decisively with racism and privilege and remove white South Africans as master of the economy, white supremacy continues, fluently and proudly, as if it was the first language of a post-apartheid South Africa.

In a country so viciously torn apart by white rule, it is white supremacy that is hate speech, not the unanswered cries of generations of struggle songs. The ugly album of white privilege and power is a deathly soundtrack to the black child for it supersizes and treasures white life while debasing and cheapening black life. Right now, the song of white supremacy is a shrill of crazed propaganda that there is white genocide in South Africa when in reality the graves of the country’s killing fields are largely those of black victims. The incidence of farm murders (which ranged between 49 to 55 over the past five-year period), are well below the overall murder statistics for the same period (which ranged between 21 325 to 27 272).

Julius Malema, president of the EFF, led his supporters in singing the well-known struggle song “Kill The Boer” at the party’s tenth year celebration last month. For right wing white South Africans, the song is seen as a declaration of war, and they have swiftly raised the alarm of white genocide. John Steenhuisen, leader of the DA has painted a portraiture of Malema as a ‘bloodthirsty tyrant’. AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel has described the EFF as thugs.

But “Kill The Boer” is one of many struggle songs sung over several decades in the noble fight for black liberation in South Africa. These songs were righteous rallying cries by a racially oppressed people against the inhumane system of apartheid. There is a legitimate place for such revolutionary songs in democratic South Africa for two key reasons. Firstly, younger generations of South Africans need to be familiar with the lyrics of liberation. Secondly, the evil legacy of apartheid has not died, and the struggle continues.

In an Equality Court case brought by Afriforum against Julius Malema and the EFF in 2022, Judge Edwin Molahlehi ruled that the “Kill The Boer” struggle song did not constitute “hate speech”. In his ruling, the Judge said that the chant was not and had never been meant “literally”, and that before democracy, the song was directed at the apartheid regime. Today, the struggle song articulates the failure of the current government to address issues of economic empowerment and land division.

For those with just a basic understanding of the struggle history of black South Africans they would know that the “Boer” referred to in the song was not an individual but the system of white supremacy. But for the majority of white South Africa, and most especially those in right wing formation such as Afriforum and the DA, who have little comprehension of or compassion for black struggle, the meaning and purpose of struggle songs have been misunderstood. Perhaps deliberately and conveniently so for expedient political gains. In typical white fashion, the focus is not on understanding but on instructing and dictating black agency and activity.

These right-wing white leaders readily cry wolf over black struggle songs but merrily expect black South Africans to stand and sing the apartheid Stem as part of the Rainbow Nation anthem. The same leaders do not raise their voices against the poverty of violence which kills black South Africans daily or speak out against the slow death of landless black South Africans. They do not go to the United Nations to raise the issue of the everyday abuse of black farm workers at the hand of white farmers.

In my view, black South Africans should spend less time trying to explain the struggle song to their fear-mongering fellow white South Africans, who want to censure and conceal black revolutionary expression and history. Most white South Africans have not bothered to learn an African language and we should not be surprised that the verse and language of struggle songs is seen as a war cry against whites rather than a melody for black liberty.

The politics of white South Africans is not one of reconciliation but of victimhood. White tears are being shed over an imaginary genocide. It is an unholy and profoundly immoral refrain. White South Africans should be grateful every day for the humanity of black South Africans who have never sought revenge for century long atrocities committed against their families and forefathers.

There is a sickening measure of arrogance in old white leaders telling young black leaders what to sing. For black South Africans, the loud and callous voice of whiteness is omnipresent and suffocating. As the great revolutionary thinker Dr Frantz Fanon said “The earth rasps under my feet, and there is a white song, a white song. All this whiteness that burns me.”

In the 1960’s in the United States, singer and songwriter Sam Cooke, his wife and his band were turned away from a “whites only” motel in Louisiana and arrested for disturbing the peace. Out of this racist incidence came “A Change is Gonna Come” which today is a famous and powerful song for the civil rights movement. “It’s been a long time coming, but I know A change gon’ come, Oh yes, it will.”

The tune will change. With the rise of progressive, confident, and black consciousness political groupings such as the EFF and BLF, who are not attuned to the sound of white instruction, racists are going to be increasingly silenced. Change is coming and until it does, the nation should reverberate with the sound of struggle songs.

Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.