Censored in the name of democracy

The judgment against Julius Malema at the Equality Court, declaring his singing of the “Shoot the Boer” song illegal, coincided with the 34th anniversary of the death of one of Africa’s most celebrated intellectuals, who boldly said: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

These are the stark words of Bantu Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. He fought for black identity and assertion, but 18 years into our democracy we still live in a highly divided society, one polarised by unemployment, poverty and tacit racism — a society in which one formation uses state and academic institutions to protect and preserve its existence and supremacy.

The Equality Court judgment also comes in Heritage Month, when we urge South Africans to preserve and protect their heritage, which is highly diverse, but also our claim to reconciliation.

One asks whether Justice Colin Lamont understands the ramifications of his judgment, or that the president of the ANC Youth League isn’t the first to sing this song. It’s perturbing that a pivotal piece of history could be wiped away in a congested courtroom in the Johannesburg CBD. Moreover, it exposes the fact that our “rainbow nation” is more of a myth and an aspiration than a reality, especially if white people believe such a song could incite violence or the “genocide” to which the judge referred in his judgment.

This unfortunate revelation shows that the black majority is seen as a bunch of barbarians who would risk going back to the dark days of apartheid, led by a piper singing a mere song. Lamont fails to understand that it was the efforts of the ANC, inter alia, that led to the democratic dispensation we have today. He forgets that it was the white supremacist apartheid government that incited violence and almost led this country into genocide, as black people were brutally murdered every day by white officers of the state, justified by an institutionalised system of segregation and sociopolitical division.

Now, if such vehement anger still existed among black people or, better yet, if they were unable to contain it, would Lamont even be a judge in a court of law today? At no stage did the ANC-led government instigate violence against any minority group. Instead, the ANC-led government has been so tolerant that we still have denialists who choose to confine themselves in an isolated, democracy-distorting community called Orania.

The judgment also implies that the gains of our democracy and reconciliation, for which we all worked so hard, are still not considered genuine by the likes of Afriforum, if that organisation believes a mere song could destabilise a country. No one took the opportunity to understand the song and to express what it means to those oppressed today by a capitalist system.

If a worker in a union sings that song, for example, it would mean dismantling a system of white monopoly capital, which continues to exploit and marginalise such workers.

This song today speaks of the fight against a system that still preserves an unequal socio-economic status quo for the benefit of a minority elite. As young people in South Africa, this should infuse us with more rigour in the fight against injustice in our democracy. We should be further encouraged to get educated and to help transform this reactionary system.

The precedent set by this judgment is unfortunate. When comrades sing “Hamba kahle, Mkhonto” at the funeral of a fellow comrade, should it be remixed to accommodate people who fail to accept reconciliation? Should all whites fear being killed? This undermines the status of the white people who dedicated their lives to the emancipation of our people, despite the privileges afforded to them by virtue of their skin colour. Whites in the movement have sung along to such songs for decades, at rallies and in gatherings, without fearing they will be harmed or marginalised.

My son may never even know the term “ibhunu“, because using that term in the near future could be seen as unconstitutional. Knowledge producers in our society enforce class inequalities and white supremacy. Institutions of higher learning also undermine African history.

Singing is a very important way of telling our version of history; it is a teaching tool. Yet the Lamont judgment depicts a world in which white is civil and acceptable while black remains barbaric. The audacity of the judge’s insinuation that the way Malema sang that song was different to the way it might be sung by Collins Chabane, the minister in the presidency, is humiliating, to say the least. Will we be expected to sing our revolutionary songs with pianos in the future, so that that they seem civil to the fearful white man who can’t trust the black man’s ability to reason and restrain himself when hearing songs of the revolution?

I am certain Lamont will be happy to hear that we are compelled by the law to respect the decision of the court. Let’s hope he tells fellow jurists presiding in other courts to be prompt when attending cases of black farmworkers who were raped or mistakenly shot at because they looked like monkeys, or the case of black women beaten and shoved into laundry machines — a murder case dismissed for insufficient evidence.

Then Lamont’s fellow judges can provide justice for thousands of black people who consistently face injustice in the justice system. This is a harsh lesson for South Africa — that reconciliation might be a wearing thinner every day, faced as we are by such realities. Under apartheid, racism was institutionalised at all levels of society. Uprooting it will be the biggest challenge this country has ever faced.

One judgment could be the tool of provocation, inciting hate and racial tensions. We cannot apologise for who we are. Those songs were written with blood and tears in the souls of many revolutionary men and women, but Lamont has affirmed that, as a black child, I have no say on the fate of my forefathers’ soil and that racism is still much of a reality for me as it was to them.

Will Lamont be getting pats on the back from the likes of AfriForum as they sing De la Rey?

Gugu Ndima is the spokesperson of the ANC caucus in the Gauteng legislature

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