Reflections on 'shoot the boer'

Graham McIntosh says words are weapons and should be used with care

The Equality Court case of Julius Malema has put the issue of the term "boer" on the front burner of our South Africa debate. Derek Hanekom is right that we should debate this slogan and it's use. I want to cite a number of incidents and issues that can shed light, rather than heat, on this discussion.

The translation of "farmer" into Afrikaans is "boer". A farming enterprise is a "boerdery". A farmers' association is a "boerevereniging". In Zulu, the Afrikaans language is "isiBhunu" and Afrikaners are "amaBhunu". In kiSwahili "kaBuru" is the term for Afrikaners. Many farmed in Kenya and what was then Tanganyika, before independence. Boer can be purely descriptive as one would use the descriptions Scot, Xhosa, Malay or Tutsi.

Overlaying these clinical dictionary words there is an emotional and ethnic baggage. It is important that one understands not only that but the context in which the words are used. Afrikaners have been described as "the white tribe of Africa" and that is not far from the truth. One hundred and twelve years ago and Anglo-Boer War, which shattered Southern Africa, commenced. Afrikaners are certainly not typical colonialists despite what the few remaining Marxists may believe.

When the then President Nelson Mandela visited Richmond in KZN in the 1990s at the time of the violence there, he spoke in Zulu about the National Party "apartheid" government as "ihulumeni yamaBhunu". That was descriptive rather than pejorative. He, and most people, recognise that "apartheid" was driven by Afrikaners or "amaBhunu". Insofar as the struggle was against apartheid, it was against the "amaBhunu".

In 2009 a coloured female voter from Dysselsdorp near Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape, when asked on SABC TV, who she would vote for in the coming General Election (she had previously voted for the ANC) said, "This time I guess I will have to vote for the "boere" ", by which she meant the DA.

South Africans widely, carelessly and mostly without malice, apply ethnic and racial tags to one another, but that recognition of diversity and group identity, does not imply a desire to discriminate or to despise, but it can easily change into that, so we need to be sensitive and vigilant.

The National Party used and abused ethnicity and nationalism in white politics. In an Oudtshoorn by-election in the 1970s, when it appeared that the United Party (UP) was making gains, the National Party launched a "boerehaat" campaign whereby they depicted the UP as pro-English and anti-Afrikaner, i.e. they hated the Boers. The NP won the by-election!

The "xenophobic violence" a few years ago, in Gauteng was mostly directed against Mozambicans but they were identified as "amaShangaan". The war cry was "bulala amaShangaan". It was pure incitement to violence but on an ethnic and tribal basis and identical to "bulala amaBhunu".

In the heritage of the ANC and it's armed wing in particular and in the tradition of Zulu impis, the singing of war songs was important. War songs for armies, like the bugler and the piper, are tools for building morale and motivating the troops.

One of those songs, which is still sung at funerals of MK veterans and often of ANC leaders, is "bulala amaBhunu". That means to kill, murder, massacre but essentially against apartheid which was personified in the Afrikaners. It has now been slightly sanitised to "amaBhunu awedubula" (let us shoot the Afrikaners).

That that song is part of ANC heritage is undoubted. Bono from the pop group U2, and coming with insights from the bloody Irish conflict, had some sensible things to say when in he was in South Africa in February this year about remembering one's heritage but not using it to perpetuate conflict. There are other non-violent songs that the ANC sang and can still sing without causing offence, anger and polarisation.

While I was President of the KwaZulu-Agicultural Union, I had intimate insight into every farm attack and murder in my Province. I can only concur with other research, that those attacks are not part of some conspiracy which can be linked to the singing of "kill the boer" which the late Peter Mokaba - another Pedi, like Malema - liked to sing.

Nonetheless the song is pejorative and abusive and contributes to demonising or dehumanising a group of people. Once a person becomes "untermensch" or a counter-revolutionary or a cockroach, sending them to the gas chambers or the Gulag or splitting their skulls is justified. Words are weapons and we should watch our language.

The biggest concern South Africans should have over the singing of this revolutionary war chant, is that by singing "bulala amaBhunu", Malema appears not to have understood that South Africa never had a revolution because Mandela and de Klerk achieved a settlement.

The struggle was terminated through CODESA, an election in 1994 and a victory was achieved by the whole Rainbow nation when the Constitution was adopted by our Parliament. South Africans now defend the Constitution, not a revolution. Why then sing offensive revolutionary songs with an ethnic content? That also applies to Zuma singing "Mshini wami" even though it's words do not target a particular group.

Graham McIntosh is a cattle farmer in the Estcourt district of KwaZulu-Natal, was the first President of the non-racial KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (KWANALU), speaks fluent English, Afrikaans and Zulu, is a former member of Parliament and studied Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town.

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