Ngema 'regrets' public ban of AmaNdiya

By Time of article published Jun 20, 2002

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Mbongeni Ngema "deeply regrets" the decision by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) on Thursday to ban his song AmaNdiya from public broadcast.

"By their action he feels that they have declared war against the African race," said a statement issued on his behalf.

"More than ever he is convinced that his entering into dialogue with the relevant stakeholders and the people on the ground to address the problem is the only way he can help his people."

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) lodged the complaint with the BCCSA after the SABC radio station Ukhozi FM played AmaNdiya during a current affairs programme in which the race issue was discussed.

Announcing the ban on Thursday, BCCSA chairperson Professor Kobus van Rooyen said that under the broadcasting code the song constituted racial hate speech with incitement to harm.

"The song as broadcast demeaned the Indian section of the population by accusing the Indians in sweeping generalisations of the oppression of Zulus, of dispossession of Zulus."

It exceeded freedom of expression allowed by the broadcasting code because it "promoted hate in sweeping, emotive language against Indians as a race" and incited fear among Indians for their safety, the judgment said.

South Africans were protected by constitutional rights which could overrule the right to freedom of speech, Van Rooyen said.

The judgment accepted Ngema's claimed intention of stimulating discussion on the negative impressions some Africans have of Indians.

"An argument could be made out that the song is likely to act as a catharsis for those Zulus who feel prejudiced by the economic position of the Indian businessmen... We also accept in favour of the writer, that he intended to begin a constructive discussion that could lead to reconciliation, as stated in the opening words by the writer."

But the judgment went on to say the song had to be judged objectively according to the norms that applied to broadcasters. These norms were supported by the Constitution.

"Objectively judged the song amounts to hate speech, in spite of the reconciliatory introduction of the writer. The song itself does not convey the same message."

Excerpts from a translation of the song include the following statements:

- "Indians don't want to change, even Mandela has failed to convince them. It was better with whites we knew then it was a racial conflict";

- "...we struggle so much here in Durban, as we have been dispossessed by Indians"; and

- "I have never seen Dlamini emigrating to Bombay, India. Yet, Indians, arrive everyday in Durban - they are packing the airport full".

Van Rooyen said the Constitutional Court had emphasised that minority groups were entitled to equal protection under the Constitution.

The song polarised the Zulu and Indian communities by demeaning Indians.

"The demeaning of the Indians has a strong hate element to it."

The hatred was based on race. The combination of all these factors incited harm, the judgment said.

"Whether there is a likelihood of real attack is irrelevant. There would, in our opinion, be a likelihood of fear... in the light of the emotionally-laden language employed."

The ruling is only binding on broadcasters and does not affect distribution of the CD or live performances of AmaNdiya.

In its reaction, the SAHRC said the judgment was significant as it clarified the limits of freedom expression in a constitutional democracy based on the values of equality and human dignity.

The judgment had brought closure about one issue, namely the song.

"The time to move beyond the song has arrived. What is evident is that the social debate around race relations, around economic exclusion and around the many other issues that the song does raise needs to continue... in an environment that is both open and honest but also constructive and forward-looking."

Ngema met former President Nelson Mandela on Monday to discuss the controversy over the song. After the meeting, he admitted that its lyrics might have gone too far and created fear among minorities.

The SAHRC said: "The commission has noted with interest the stated intention of Mr Ngema following his meeting with Mr Mandela to embark on a process of debate and discourse with others around the problems and barriers that exist in the path of true reconciliation and nation-building.

"We fully endorse such an approach and reiterate our willingness to participate in those processes." - Sapa

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