S.Africa: White hating Julius Malema: British Professor guns down claim of racial intent in ‘Shoot the Boer’ – My Comments
Provocative struggle songs still have a place in contemporary SA, despite being racially charged and about violence when viewed literally, as they carried potent political symbolism.
This according to Prof Elizabeth Gunner, a visiting professor at the school of languages at the University of Johannesburg, who took the stand as the last witness of the EFF in the Equality Court.
The EFF and its leader Julius Malema are accused of hate speech and incitement of violence by the lobby group and wants them to be gagged from singing “Dubul’ibhunu/Shoot the Boer” song in future, to be compelled to apologise and to pay a fine of R500,000 for defying a 2011 ruling by the same court that declared the song hate speech, which Malema appealed.
Academically describing the many political struggle songs, Gunner said [the] "political song" had a role in the public life of a state, particularly an African state because of the long cultural matrix and history of politics, song and performance in the African society.
“If you go back to the start of the Union in 1910, you can trace from that time, and earlier as well, that there was a strong tradition of the use of public song in order to voice opinion and make important points about governance, or hoped for governance,” Gunner said.
She pointed out that Dubul’ibunu/Shoot the Boer and other many provocative songs were not literal and that they carried symbolic message, sometimes aimed at sparking debate in the political life of a country.
“The term ‘dubula’ has a very long history within SA political songs as a symbol of resistance, defiance and courage. It is not literal," she said.
Gunner said ANC veterans and “luminaries of the struggle” had defended the “Shoot the Boer” and other struggle songs as part of its “richest cultural capital”.
These included ANC stalwart, poet and author Wally Serote, who described it as a “repertoire of songs used in the struggle against apartheid” when he testified in defence of Malema when AfriForum brought him before the same court over the same song in 2011.
Gunner made reference to former president Jacob Zuma’s favourite song, Umshini wam (My Machine Gun), saying he was not literally asking to be given a weapon but sending a political message.
“When he sang it, Jacob Zuma did not expect somebody to come out in front of the court in 2005 where he sung the song and present him with a machine gun. What he was saying was an allusion to heroism, struggle and what you use when you are in a position of having to fight for something,” Gunner said.
She pointed out that other struggle songs whose meaning were dated still had relevance as served as inspiration and reminder of the past, including Thetha which calls on former ANC leader OR Tambo to speak with then apartheid leader PW Botha to release Nelson Mandela.
“A song exists in a wider frame of time and reference. The song still carries a huge weight as a historical statement and shows how songs can move through time and cause inspiration through memory to a later generation,” she said.
AfriForum however quizzed Gunner on Malema’s motives as he said he had refused to pledge never to call for the killing of white people when he was cross-examining him.
Gunner refused to respond as she said that was outside of her expertise as a scholar on the “song” and its use in the African context.
She stressed that there was a difference between songs and statements.