According to Mcebisi Ndetlyana, the song “Kill the Boer” should be looked at in terms of its intention, which is not aimed at individuals but at an unjust system.
White people may have heard the put-down from black friends
or colleagues: “Now you’re being white.” It is a certain beha-
viour or attitude that defines one as white, not skin colour.
Similarly, when liberation songs expressed commitment to kill-
ing whites, their target was the power structure and privi-
leges, not the individuals.
… these songs are a memory that keep alive our tradition
of protest and defiance against inept and unresponsive
In other words, when people sing “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer,” they don’t really mean it. They are protesting against a situation not people.
This kind of abstraction, the separation of people from their behaviour and attitudes, is a very curious kind of argument. When we say we do not hate the people, only their behaviour or attitude, what exactly do we mean? If their behaviour and attitudes warrant punishment, how do we punish behaviour and attitudes without punishing the persons? Surely actions emanate from a person’s intentions and, therefore, are not separate from the person. If someone calls another person by a derogatory term such as kaffir or koelie or bushman, do we turn round and say, ‘I hate the word but I don’t hate you.’ And when we seek redress, is it against the word or the person?
According to Ndetlyana:
Working class blacks hate whiteness, not people of European
ancestry. Sure, whites were part of the phenomenon of white-ness, but they were embedded within a system and ethos.
The system and the ethos in which white people were embedded gave them superiority, privileges and opportunities to accumulate and pass on wealth. In what way were these advantages embedded within the system and not within white people? When black people saw whites they may not have seen the individuals but only what they represented. But was what they represented separate from them? Better living conditions, excellent educational and career opportunities and baasskap – were these separate from them? Did these advantages not make them who they were? Did black people really extract these advantages and hate them, not the people who had them? Did they say, ‘I do not hate you Mr Whiteman, I hate the system and the ethos.’
As a fallible human being, I do not think that I was capable of that. I am unable to separate Mr Whiteman from the system and the ethos that he created and that embodied his values and understanding. And I am not convinced by the argument that people like “Joe Slovo, Donald Woods, Benjamin Pogrund, Bram Fischer, Beyers Naudé, Ray and Jack Simons, Helen Joseph and many others who extricated themselves from that matrix of whiteness,” made black people colour blind. I remember, sometime in the sixties I think it was, when a nun who was helping a comrade was killed in a township. Why did the black people who murdered her not see her as a comrade but only as a white woman? How did they miss the fact that she did not have “the attitude that defined whiteness”?
When you physically attack a system, how do you not attack the people who uphold that system? When the ANC began its attack on installations during apartheid, it didn’t only damage property and the symbols of apartheid, it was also responsible for casualties and deaths. And were these attacks on civilian targets not against people but against white attitudes? How does one bomb attitudes without bombing people? The apartheid government also took a principled stand: they were also fighting abstractions – communism and terrorism, die swart gevaar that threatened ‘civilized’ values and they retaliated with assassinations of comrades and bombing raids across the borders. In a war situation it is necessary to veil in abstractions the human beings that we kill so that we do not see the blood and guts that we spill.
Now we have the song “Kill the Boer, kill the Farmer”. There is nothing abstract about this but Ndetlyana attempts to turn it into an abstraction in the following rationalisations:
The song is part of the material that constitutes its heroic status. It evokes emotions that remind black people of the sacrifices made by members of the ruling party in pursuit of freedom. That gratitude translates to votes.
… these songs are a memory that keeps alive our tradition
of protest and defiance against inept and unresponsive
authority. Municipal councillors may already be feeling
the effects of that tradition. We are better off not forgetting.
I have not heard protesters toyi-toying against poor service delivery singing ‘Kill the Boer, kill the farmer,’ but I have seen them being jet sprayed, shot with rubber bullets and having teargas thrown at them. This is certainly reminiscent of a tradition; a tradition that was common in the apartheid era when mass protests were treated in the same way.
The song “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer,” is not just a symbolic expression of outrage against an unjust system. If that were so how do we explain all the farm killings that have taken place not before, but after 1994 when South Africa opted for democracy? If liberation songs are targeted at the power structure and privileges, after 1994 the power structured was transferred into ANC hands. How did killing farmers express protest against the power structure? Were they not expressions of a newfound freedom to take the law into one’s own hands? Were they not revenge killings? Isn’t the justification of the song ‘Kill the Boer, kill the farmer’ a justification of that kind of lawlessness? It is simplistic to assume that songs such as “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer” are innocuous and are forms of protest not against people but against a system. People are the system.
Afrikaners who trekked into the interior of South Africa during the British occupation regarded themselves as indigenous and entitled to the land that they tamed, cultivated and made productive. Bitterness over their expropriation of land goes back to the time of the Great Trek and before. And conflict over land lies at the root of such expressions as “Kill the Boer, kill the Farmer.” That hatred has been passed on through generations of Blacks and Whites. It shouldn’t surprise us that the song ‘Kill the Boer, kill the farmer, has been so well received in Zimbabwe.
If we wish to build a democracy in this country, we need to stop justifying negative racial attitudes by affording them “heroic status.” Why are we still singing liberation songs? Are we still fighting for liberation? I know we need liberation from poverty and crime but not from the Boers. We need the expertise that they built up during the apartheid years. Why alienate them when they can improve service delivery, which is such a problem in the country. Why not bring them into the equation? After all the Freedom Charter opens with the words, ‘The land belongs to all who live in it,’ and until we have worked out a way to make that happen for the benefit of the whole country and all who live in it, let us stop alienating one another. Let us begin to embrace one another and become one people.
I was always under the impression that ‘Kill the Boer, kill the farmer’ was of PAC origin but if Julius Malema can wrest the Sharpeville Demonstration from the PAC, why not the song as well?
“Kill the Boer, kill the farmer” is a divisive song as divisive as terms like kaffir, koelie, bushman. It is, as Judge Holgrayn pronounced, unconstitutional. And it is racist. No matter how dear to the hearts of struggle veterans, liberation songs that advocate killing and taking up arms, belong in the racism of the apartheid era. Sung at mass meetings today they give the lie to democratic governance and everything that Nelson Mandela advocated.
We do not need rationalisations such as Ndetlyana’s article that cover up the truth that racism is alive and well in South Africa. What we need is a TRC that addresses real feelings of racial hatred and the desire for revenge/redress that emanate from the majority, not only those who fought in the struggle but also ordinary people who daily bore the brunt of apartheid viciousness and now suffer unrecognised post traumatic stress.