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An innocent chant or threat to Afrikaners?

Earlier this year, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema faced a battle of a different kind – hate speech charges laid by lobby group AfriForum and the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU SA) for his singing of Dubul’ ibhunu (“Shoot the Boer”).

With Judge Colin Lamont scheduled to rule on the case today, Kristen van Schie reviews what happened inside the Johannesburg High Court.

ANCYL president Julius Malema flanked by heavily armed security guards with semi- automatic rifles outside the Johannesburg High Court during the hearings on whether the singing of Dubul ibhunu was a case of hate speech. Photo: Antoine de Ras. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The AfriForum Case

In court, AfriForum took a literal approach to the infamous lyrics.

Dubul’ ibhunu, they said, literally meant “Shoot the Boer”. Another translated line: “They are scared, the cowards. You should shoot the Boer. They rob, these dogs.”

“Boer,” they argued, referred either to Afrikaners or farmers. Malema was a public and influential leader, openly singing lyrics that incited violence towards an ethnic group, which constituted hate speech.

While on the stand, AfriForum deputy chief executive Ernst Roets described an alleged veiled threat by Malema when they met to discuss a protest AfriForum was planning over the song. “He said that if we protested, there would be a repetition of what happened to the IFP members outside Shell House in 1994.”

Music lecturer Dr Anne-Marie Gray said Dubul’ ibhunu wasn’t even a song, but a chant, which created a “trance-like” atmosphere.

“A chant is when words keep on being repeated, and is accompanied by toyi-toying, and there are gestures that makes a person a bit uncomfortable,” she said. “It is much more aggressive and threatening… It almost sweeps you off your feet. It makes you want to do something.”

The Tau SA Case

TAU SA took a different tack. True, the constitution set the intent to cause harm or incite violence as a criterion for hate speech. But according to the Equality Act, they argued, intent had nothing to do with it. Instead, it was how the message was perceived by the victims.

“It’s about the reaction of the target group, the infringement of their right,” said lawyer Roelof du Plessis SC. “It doesn’t matter what the ANC says it means by ‘boer’ if I understand that to be directed at me.”

TAU assistant chief executive General Chris van Zyl said the phrase made him feel targeted as a member of a specific community.

Criminologist Professor Christiaan Bezuidenhout described the powerful influence of music. “If you take a young person… grown up in a marginalised situation, poor and unemployed, and goes to a rally and hears the chants that say ‘kill’ or ‘shoot’, that can contribute to their thinking.”

The ANC Case

Standing firmly by Malema, ANC lawyers argued that the contentious lyrics were taken completely out of context. The word ibhunu or even “boer” did not refer to Afrikaners, but to the system of apartheid.

Poet Wally Serote said it was always understood that “boer” referred to the institution.

“It is African culture to sing,” he said. “You must remember that Bantu Education ‘de-educated’ our people. We had to find a manner in which people could understand what was happening in South Africa.

Afrikaner Derek Hanekom, an ANC MP, insisted he did not feel threatened by the lyrics, and that he knew “boer” was code for the apartheid government’s security apparatus.

… and the man himself

Malema was the final person called to the stand. Funny, confident, he had the gallery enchanted. He loved white people, and white people loved him. “When I go walking in the shops, white people are always approaching me for photos and autographs,” he laughed.

He didn’t sing the songs to rub Afrikaners up the wrong way.

But under an abrasive cross-examination, he grew irritable, self-defensive and paranoid. He was being isolated for media coverage. The courts were under the control of “dark forces in the night”. Farms should be taken without compensation, he said. - The Star

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