On farm murders and 'shoot the boer'

Dirk Hermann says the ANC failed a moral test by defending the song in court

"Kill the Boer!" Malema sings, while holding his hand out in a gesture imitating a gun. In a skit on this theme a clothing store in a shopping mall specializing in satirical T-shirts sells shirts carrying the words: "Don't shoot me, I'm a tourist, not a Boer".

In the Equality Court in Johannesburg hours are spent analysing the meaning of the term "Boer". One after the other witnesses tries to give content to the meaning of the term. For some it signifies a farmer, for others it signifies an ethnic group, while it represents a system for others.

It is explained that the song is merely a struggle song. It is sung to pay tribute to the heroes of the past. Hours are spent on explaining. Too much explaining is being done.

During the court case I think of my uncle, Frik Hermann. He was kicked to death. His was a painful death. His ribs penetrated his lungs, and his attackers left him to die. A harmless old man of 78. I recall the smell of death that filled his house, the blood stains in his bedroom. I think of the flattened grass at the back of his house where the murderers were laying in ambush, waiting for him throughout the night. They were waiting to "kill" the Boer.

Neither the owner of the clothes store, nor any of the witnesses in the equality court is a Boer whose family members have been killed. Put yourself in the shoes of a wife whose husband was killed in the most brutal way possible. A child whose dad was tortured to death. A husband whose wife was raped, burnt with a hot iron, and then killed.

Put yourself in these people's shoes, and then sing: "Kill the Boer!" You can't. Your mouth turns dry, you get a lump in your throat, and tears well up in your eyes. When you speak to family members of victims all you want to say is: how can I help? When you look at the farm workers who have been unsettled by events, you want to ask: Lord, how did this happen? You simply cannot sing "Kill the Boer", for it hurts too much.

How insensitive can one be to sing "Kill the Boer" when between 1 500 and 3 000 farmers (depending on which statistics are being used) have already been killed?  These murders left thousands of family members pained.  How can one's apparent context and intention ever outweigh the pain and experiences of those who have to listen to the song?

The AfriForum court case only really gained context for me with the murder of my uncle Frik. Most Afrikaners have some or other connection with a farm. My father in law is a farmer, and criminals had entered his house while the family was asleep; my cousin is a farmer and he was ambushed when he returned from church; acquaintances of ours have been murdered. Afrikaners experience farm murders very intensely, and a song chanting "Kill the Boer" is experienced as insensitive and vindictive.

The ANC issued a moving statement in the wake of uncle Frik's murder. In it they pay tribute to farmers, and express the party's sympathy to the family. At the very same time, the ANC decided to participate in the Malema hate speech trial. They want the right to sing "Kill the Boer". This is not coming from a hot-headed youth leader and his youth league, but from the ruling party.

With its participation in the Malema trial the ANC failed a moral test. The question in the quest for morality is simply: should you be doing something? Not necessarily ‘could you' or ‘may you', but ‘should you'? In the South African context with its high murder rate, particularly on farmers, one should not be singing "Kill the Boer." Even if the court allows it. It is not right. All that is legal is not necessarily right.  There are certain things one should not be doing. Anyone who argues: "I can and I will ask the court to give me the right to sing such a song", fails the moral test. ANC, you should not be doing that.

Malema, Mantashe and Zuma - I invite you: stand alongside a widow whose husband had been tortured and shot dead. Let the farmer workers whose lives had been disrupted stand alongside you. Then start the chant: "Kill the Boer".  There will only be silence.

Dirk Hermann is deputy general secretary of Solidarity. This article is an extract from the upcoming English edition of Treurgrond: 20 jaar van plaasaanvalle in Suid-Afrika.

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