Remnants of the Past: Building or Destroying the Nation?

According to Julius Malema, the defence of revolutionary songs is so crucial that he will waste taxpayers’ money in defending them. In this instance, he is referring to the song “Kill the Boer”, which he says does not literally refer to any group, but is in fact an expression, which means the system must be killed. The song was only supposed to agitate youth league leaders. To quote him:

These songs were banned by a nonsensical, racial and brutal apartheid regime. You can’t do it now, not in our lifetime. These songs must be sung. This is our heritage; it is our culture and one that I am not  compromising on.”

In his constant reference to these songs, Malema mentions that the songs  are part of where we come from and if they are banned, it means we are not  only turning our backs on our history, but also suppressing freedom of  speech.

Looking at his argument, part of it makes sense. We sometimes overeact  when certain songs are sung, especially if they are coming from the ANCYL. We feel Malema is inciting violence and so we are quick to want  to silence him, branding these songs to be remnants of an unwanted past, not relevant to us  today. Yet much of what history is about revolves around what we sang and  why, and the resulting impact of these songs (and other actions) on broader society. It’s in these songs that people expressed their anger and had an outlet to express how they felt against the apartheid regime. So banning the song would, as he said, be tampering with the history of our country.

AfriForum also can’t hope to ban a liberation song that people have grown up singing. It only makes the situation worse because it gives their opponents ammunition to call them racists. It is an unfair situation but it is the way it is for now.

At the same time, his argument has many holes in it. Firstly, when he refers to “our heritage, our culture”, it does not include most of the inhabitants of this country; many black people were not and are not part of the ANC and a lot of whites are  also not and so the idea of calling the song part of “our” past is nonsensical. It is part of  ANC struggle history and that cannot be applied to all the black people in this country. Secondly, by pushing the singing of these songs at a national level, he is putting himself in a position that is against nation building. From my perspective, Malema is not willing to build a diverse yet united South Africa, because, like most of the ANC leadership, he is pushing for people to remember more of their past struggles than looking forward to how we can contribute positively to this country and change people’s mindsets towards each other. His aim, it seems, is to divide not only the ANC, but also the nation, because he is looking to “divide and conquer”.

Malema does not seem to want to include anyone outside of the ANC or even his race group. So I wonder what he would   say when Afrikaner or English speaking descendents of colonialists start to assert their right to sing songs that discriminate against black people. They could also state that it is part of their heritage and culture, no longer being discriminatory but to agitate their people to not forget where they come from. Yet the very songs that Malema is pushing to remain are part of the era of discrimination against black people, and by declaring “Kill the Boer” part of our culture (meaning black, but specifically ANC) he is directly challenging the legitimacy of white people in South Africa.

Which brings me back to my point: Malema is not interested in nation building, but in creating power bases for himself.

One thought on “Remnants of the Past: Building or Destroying the Nation?

  • January 31, 2011 at 12:42 am

    The sight of a populist politician pandering to his base with violent rhetoric is indeed scary.  Malema complains about the brutal apartheid regime of the past and then uses nonsensical and racial words to advance his own agenda.  I think the people of SA probably see through his crass tactics, especially so if other politicians can articulate a vision of economic prosperity, decreasing unemployment amongst  the young, and a happier state of integration with justice for all!
    Of course, ultimately results are what count.  If there is just talk without solutions, then anger and unrest will play into the hands of the Malema types.  If the government is effective, then Malema will become irrelevant.


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