Offensive lyrics incite racism, says FF+

Published Feb 23, 2008


By Bronwynne Jooste

Music has always been a powerful tool of expression but a string of controversial songs in recent years has raised questions about whether artists are crossing the line with lyrics that are racially or religiously offensive.

Just this week the Freedom Front Plus lodged a formal complaint with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa about a song by artist Zubz, titled Get Out.

The lyrics read: "Understand I'm gonna get this panga to your neck. Take what is mine today and I'll rob you tomorrow."

The song ends: "It's not all white people that's racist. And not all white people perpetuate the imbalance. So not all white people needs to be addressed."

The song and its gory video were broadcast on SABC1 last month.

Willie Spies of the FF Plus said the party had decided to pursue the issue because of the sentiments regarding race. It also felt the song could fuel crime.

"Crime occurs every single day, and some of the incidents have racial undertones. The lyrics are just not appropriate and we can't afford to glorify the use of violence to settle past grievances.

"While the party would not want to impinge on artists' right to express their views, musicians should do so without offending anyone," said Spies.

"We can all agree that freedom of expression has its limits. Even the Constitution says we may not use art to incite violence between different groups. And we need to take note of the context that South Africa does not have a history of peaceful co-existence. We have a past filled with intolerance and oppression, so this kind of rhetoric is unacceptable."

Get Out is not the only song with lyrics deemed offensive to certain people.

Afrikaans singer Bok van Blerk's hit De La Rey was at the centre of another recent controversy.

Van Blerk said his track was merely a tribute to boer general Koos De la Rey, with its lyrics "De la Rey De la Rey/Sal jy die boere kom lei?", meaning "De la Rey, will you come lead the boers?"

Young Afrikaners across the country embraced the song, and were even seen brandishing the old South African flag at Van Blerk's concerts.

The department of arts and culture denounced the song, saying it could be interpreted as a call to arms by racial right-wing groups.

For his part, Van Blerk said, while he in no way identified with any apartheid ideology, he was proud to be Afrikaans and would continue to promote his culture.

In one of the most serious incidents four years ago, songwriter Mbongeni Ngema's song AmaNdiya, meaning "The Indians", sparked outrage and was subsequently banned by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. It was the first song to be banned in post-apartheid South Africa. It opens with an English voice-over stating: "This song represents the way many African people feel about the behaviour of Indians in this country. It is intended to begin a constructive discussion that will lead to a true reconciliation between Indians and Africans."

The lyrics, in Zulu, state that Indians do not like black people and only vote for white political parties. The words include: "We struggle here in Durban, as we have been dispossessed by Indians/Who in turn are suppressing our people."

Analysts highlighted the fact that racial tensions between the two groups in Durban stretched back to the 1940s, and agreed that the song had the potential to stir up the situation.

The Human Rights Commission's request that the song be banned was eventually granted.

At the time Ngema said his intent was to start a debate around the racial issues between the two groups, not to fuel racism.

He also promised to participate in discussions around improving race relations.

But it's not only racial slurs that raise eyebrows.

Afrikaans punk rock band Fokofpolisiekar have long been at loggerheads with the Christian community over some of their songs.

Guitarist Wynand Myburgh triggered angry reaction in 2006 when he wrote the words "F*k God" on a fan's wallet. Religious commentators across the country voiced their disapproval. None the less, the band, originally from Cape Town, continues to enjoy widespread popularity.

The chairperson of the Cape Town Jazz Festival, Rashid Lombard, said while creative expression should not be stifled, artists should choose their words wisely.

"Music crosses boundaries and, as a medium, should unite more than divide. Artists should try to be sensitive with their lyrics," Lombard said.

The Western Cape Musicians' Association said music had played a powerful role in the country's liberation struggle, and remained an emotive medium.

Spokesperson Rozzano Davids said even in the apartheid era, political parties used music to spread their message.

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