Christopher Rodrigues
Christopher Rodrigues

‘Black boers’ and other revolutionary songs

A hat tip to Mphutlane wa Bofelo for pointing out the subtext to the ANC’s claim to the “shoot the boer!” song: For is it not the case, as wa Bofelo points out, that the attempt to establish a heritage status for the song locates the struggle in the past? And what of the new songs that the poor sing today? Songs like, “amabhunu amnyama asenzela i -worry” — “black boers cause us worries”. Does this current storm in Julius Malema’s teacup not also divert attention from this reality?

Part of the problem resides in the fact that the media tends to follow the blindingly obvious — in this case, the day-to-day pronouncements of those who hold political office. The body politic is, however, capable of other forms. The University of Abahlali baseMjondolo — the University of the Shack Dwellers — is a case in point. University? Shack dwellers? What kind of politics is this that doesn’t seek parliamentary representation? Still, it’s unforgivable that in a country where protests occur with such frequency — there is no ink spilt analysing contemporary idioms.

Anthems, as the Uruguayan essayist Eduardo Galeano says, are often full of “threats, insults, self-praise, homages to war, and the honourable duty to kill and be killed”. The archetypal Marseillaise, for instance, warns that the Revolution “will water the fields with the impure blood” of the invaders. Terrifying stuff but once institutionalised, as Messrs Malema and Motlanthe are arguing, these songs of death and victory are sentimentalised and tamed. They are no longer sung outside the Bastille but inside the Stade de France. In the ANC’s case — we could draw a distinction between singing near Casspirs, and singing in the vicinity of parking lots full of SUVs.

It is, rather, the adaptation of a song, or a new song sung by the excluded that is, as the philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues in First as Tragedy, Then as Farce — the truly revolutionary anthem. Working from the premise that “universal humanity is visible at the edges” — a phrase he borrows from Susan Buck-Morss — he describes how the newly self-liberated black slaves of Haiti faced down the French soldiers sent to crush their republic, by singing the Marseillaise. As Zizek suggests, in that moment, they were asserting:

“In this battle, we are more French than you, the Frenchmen, are — we stand for the innermost consequences of your revolutionary ideology, the very consequences you were not able to assume.”

Could we not say the same with the “black boers cause us worries”? Not only are the poor demonstrating their non-racialism (a black person can also be a boer — a metaphor for an oppressor), they are simultaneously radicalising, through differentiating class from race, what the ANC’s theorists would call the national democratic revolution.

Indeed, it must be somewhat unsettling for the ANC (as in Zizek’s example, the French), who once held a revolutionary initiative, to hear new analyses of the struggle — like the following from Abahlali:

“It is the community organisations and poor people’s movements who are protesting around the country who are true to the spirit of the struggle against apartheid. The politicians who try to herd the people into stadiums to tell them that the politicians in their cavalcades are the true inheritors of the spirit of that struggle have made themselves our enemies.”

All it seems the ANC can say is that we once sang a seditious song and what is now required is — as represented by our regime — obedience to that heroic heritage. Regrettably, a judicial ruling has breathed new life into what is an anachronistic farce for, as Karl Marx might have said, the ANC “only imagines that it believes in itself and asks the world to share in its fantasy”.

Sixteen years of neo-liberal economics dressed up in leftist drag means that a new generation are singing real songs again. These old-new freedom songs are, routinely, met with rubber bullets. It underscores one of wa Bofelo’s points — that people have always known that “it does not only take a white skin to install or perpetuate a system based on unequal allocation of power and inequitable distribution of wealth and resources”.

Here, however, we enter a more thought-provoking terrain and, again, Zizek is useful. He inverts Marx’s old definition of farce by insisting that “contemporary cynicism” as regards ideology (post-modernism, if you like) only imagines “that we do not “really believe” in our ideology [for] in spite of this imaginary distance, we continue to practice it”.

In other words, is not all this attention on Malema, and on a long-in-the-tooth song, not an illusory fight that both the black and white bourgeoisie would prefer to a real one over, dare we say it, communism of some sort? Is it not that the bourgeoisie believe in capitalism so much that they would rather chose a Janus-faced soap-opera (with its empty posturing and hysterical condemnation) than confront the ideological challenge posed by the new anti-capitalist movements? Is it not the case that a clown prince is (even to the SACP) preferable to a real communist?

A few years ago, the Financial Mail, wrote something particularly telling in regard to the then president-in-waiting. It was in the edition entitled, “Be Afraid”. “It’s not the corruption and rape charges that investors and SA business think about when they think of Zuma,” said feature writer Carol Patton, “it’s the simple fact that he has a far more radical support base than Mbeki”.

That someone could be radical — let alone a class for itself — is the spectre haunting South Africa’s rainbow elites. The “shoot the boer!” song represents then, in a Freudian sense, only a symptomatic return of this repressed fear.

“But what about farm attacks/killings”, someone could ask? Are these not, as AfriForum and the Democratic Alliance assert, a literal enactment of that song?

This question also masks its ideology. We should first ask what a farm attack/killing is? And once both phrases also include the attack/killing of farm workers by farm owners, we should ask what motivates farm owners to attack/kill farm workers? The answer to that question will, no doubt, extend the initial inquiry well beyond the three words of a song.

There is, of course, a more obscure question — one that proves that the blind are leading the blind — and it’s whether the murder of an abusive white supremacist, like Eugene Terre’Blanche, is attributable to others’ “hate speech”?

Let’s stop changing the topic. South Africa has been dubbed “the protest capital of the world”. The recent Kennedy Road attacks, which left two dead and Abahlali activists hiding in safe houses, are harbingers of an intensifying class struggle. As one of its members said: “The ANC regards [Abahlali] — not the other official political parties — as their true opposition, because we are closer to the pain on the ground.”

  • X Cepting

    Perhaps one should also ask oneself how successful the Marxist/communist ideal is when in both examples: China and the USSR, it was/is practiced, it simply created a different bourgeouisie that is not so easy to identify, usually in cahoots with the criminal underground bourgeoisie, with far more devastating effects to the general populace who simply becomes slaves in all but name, robbed of any free choice, believing in this farce called equality even though the reality shows an ugly inequality.

    And, what kind of university does not teach knowledge, only information? Shouldn’t all that energy go to actually educating the population with knowledge? THAT would get my respect and support. That the ANC is robbing us is immediate information, how to form a government that won’t, will be knowledge valuable for everyone, for ever. Time to redirect the energies, perhaps?

  • Stephen Browne

    Thank you for a great article. Its nice to have someone explain what the hell is actually happening without repeating the words of others.

  • mundundu

    nice try.

    however, people will only start thinking about the song metaphorically when they have enough to eat every day. and for nearly half the country, that’s not the case.

    as i’ve said elsewhere, i don’t have a problem with the song staying as long as the old flag can stay. they’re two sides of the same coin. of course, few people can actually see that — perhaps that’s another failure of the south african educational system.

    funnily enough, i think that abahlali is the real opposition to the anc as well. one those occasions where they have something good to say, i go to email them, but i’m in their spam filters because i’ve told them on several occasions that they were full of crap as well. oops.

  • mundundu
  • marxism sux

    the anc does not need enemies as it is a cancer that will self-consume.

  • The Creator

    Intelligent stuff, although obviously singling out a crowd of shacklords who happen to be the darlings of a handful of well-heeled Trotskyite academics, and thus get oodles of undeserved media attention, is a problem.

    But it is at least worth praising you for pointing out that there are objective issues behind contemporary political puppet-shows, issues which the puppeteers naturally would like to do something about.

    The next step would be to perform an actual analysis of the situation (i.e., go beyond empty rhetorical games) and then determine what to do next.

  • brent

    “Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, a Zulu professional who now lives in Paris said she was staggered by the shutting down of public discourse in Durban when she returned to Durban at the height of the project to install Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC in 2007: “When I went out with friends and relatives, it was very scary that one couldn’t be critical of Zuma, or even play devil’s advocate about his ability to be president. It seemed as if, if you said anything contrary, you were the enemy,” she said.
    That trend appears to have been transplanted to a national level, with the vitriol of racialised, personalised attacks or thinly veiled death threats perpetrated by the likes of ANCYL president Julius Malema whenever the president or party is criticised.”

    The debate should be how to bring the shack dwellers into society and how to “very quickly” and successfully redress the land issue. All Africa’s wars and strif have been over land. Debating marxism/socialism etc etc yakety yakety just continues the polorisation. Marxism is 100% Eurocentric and has failed everywhere and where is appears to be working no one else will go near it. So lets debate work vigerously towards a 3rd “South African” way tha thas ±20 milion poor/unemployed as the central focus of the debate/solution/practical actions.


  • frombelow

    Great article.

    It is true. Malema is just a distraction from the real issues of inequality between farmworkers and farmowners. It seems both the black and white boers are uniting to make us worry about whether we’ll be able to put food on the table.

  • Robard

    “And once both phrases also include the attack/killing of farm workers by farm owners”

    The vast majority of farm murders are perpetrated by outsiders. It is rare that farmers are killed by their own workers or vice versa. One has to wonder if the TerreBlanche murder was not engineered by someone so as to cement this false narrative that the farm murder phenomenon is a class struggle between farmers and their workers.

  • zozo

    there is one thing that need to be corrected from the response from Mundundu that abahlali is not an oppisition just a community organisation that seeks justice from the authourities that they had promised the poor south African . You can not promise me something and once you r in power you became a millionair out of poor ppls tears, NO!! that should end. Ppl that does that the movement will expose it even if its another political party that is in power. Even in Capetown we are doing the same where DA rules why ppl don’t say we are the opposition to DA only when we expose the wrongs of ANC ppl say we are opposing the ANC, South African wake-up!! Now is the time to turn the tides the poor must rise-up and claim what belongs to them. University of abahlali is not only for the information but even the knowledge of how to angage the authories and its teaches community to wake-up and do it for themselves because they are the masters of their own suffering.Aluta continua!!!

  • X Cepting

    Next step, the local version of the KGB. Oh, hang on, Mo Shaik is in charge of that one, isn’t he?

  • Keep On Keeping On

    This is the most intelligent and insightful article that I’ve read in a long time. Its great to see that someone out there is really thinking!

    But someone should tell ‘The Creator’ that he Trotskyists have been waging war on Abahlali baseMjondolo with a viciousness that rivals that of the state since they informed them, back in 2006, that they had no interest in joining their little cult that is supposed to turn into a mass workers party one day.

    Their website clearly states that they refuse to work with the Centre for Civil Society

  • blogospherian

    thank you, that was useful and informative… perhaps next time you can share the shack dweller’s agenda once the songs are sung.

  • X Cepting

    @zozo “A luta continua”
    Sure, as long as “vitória é certa”
    The knowledge of how to deal with the government is plainly laid out in the Constitution. Ever wondered why the Americans make you learn their Constitution before you can become a citizen? If you wish to be credited as a university why not do us all a favour and teach those around you the Constitution and how it works. Start with the Bill of Rights. It will do what all the protest marches won’t, namely, give real power to the people to do something about their own situation. Protests and strikes have become so common they do not have any effect anymore accept to piss of ordinary working people who’s life’s it affect most. The guys travelling in VIP security convoys don’t care.

  • Chris Rodrigues

    Keep On Keeping On: Quite right, Abahlali are not (as is worrying X Cepting) Stalinists, nor do they have a sympatico relationship (as The Creator implies) with Trotskyites. Instead, they have more in common with anarchist-communist currents that favour direct democracy. Elitist, expert, and representative forms are, similarly, problematised as authoritarian.

    blogospherian: If this is of interest, have a look at their website.

  • Robert James Basil Duigan

    All of those who so far have criticised or dirided Marxism seem ignorant of its actual content. The USSR system was not based on Marx’s writings; something Lenin himself admitted in his private writings, musing on his hijacking of the popular bolshevik revolution. China even less so.
    People who criticize Marxism based on those who pretend to embody it is like saying democracy is evil because the DRC calls itself by such a name. As for that brent chap, he doesn’t have the first clue about Marx’s writings on the dialectic of materialism or the means of production if he thinks that it is Eurocentric. Marxism isn’t simple, and cannot be understood by reading newspaper clippings. After studying philosophy for two years, and reading some of the more important texts, I wouldn’t claim concrete understanding, but would not hesitate to dismiss as pig-ignorant the preceding comments of those who criticise works they have not read based on historical events they do not understand.

  • X Cepting

    I never mentioned Stalin, but Marxist/communist ideals, particularly the last years of the KGB where they did go in cahoots with the Russian-style mafia, creating a new entitled class with vast powers, devastating to ordinary citizens. Anarchist communist? Seems like an oxymoron to me since in an anarchy there is very little cooperation and no government and communism is supposed to have a government that controls everything for everyone. Abhalali will only succeed as long as the common enemy in the form of the government is still around. Once gone, competition for ownership of the biggest gun will be the main agenda. Biggest Gun = Boss. Anarchy is a dope-smoking utopian dream that will never work unless we wish to go back to a jungle law, kill-or-be-killed style society. In essence, I agree with abhalali’s goal of making government accountable, just think their methods might be based on old, outdated methods of “revolution” that simply will lead to tears. It is sad to watch such energy go to waste. There are new, more productive ways to fight, that does not involve people being hurt. Remember, none of those shack dwellers can afford VIP security, which does become an issue when just showing the finger to the presidential motorcade can get you a KGB-style shakedown. I am, in other words, with these people, but have spent considerable time researching ways of fighting for those with no power or money, to which class I belong.

  • X Cepting

    @Robert James Basil Duigan – Fine Sir, then after such a rude slap down, would you please engage and educate us pigs in the writings and ideology of Marx, perhaps with particular reference to why, if it is such a perfect system, does it never work in reality and always gets distorted to something very non-beneficial to the majority. I used to fervently believe in “The Communist Manifesto”, which replaced religious teachings on my bedside table, until I grew up and sold my black beret after seeing the system in practice, in reality. (Kept the red wine habit though, it made sense).

  • Lyndall Beddy

    Patricia De Lille says “Kill the Boer” was a Zanu-PF song that the PAC brought back to SA, which makes sense as there was no bush war in SA (unlike Zimbabwe and Kenya).

    Which means it is not even ANC history – only borrowed.

  • trekboer

    Jislaaik -I think thats the first article you’ve written that I didn’t have to haul the donderste woordeboek out of the dakkamer to understand.
    As they say at my local -don’t order things in a language you don’t understand, you never know what you’ll get! Boer or no boer klap ‘n $%&*^ is what I say! (substitute with whichever hate figure/ group you prefer).

  • Geejay

    So how does one “Uplift the poor?” Do they have terms and conditions associated for anyone wanting to uplift them?
    Reading these comments it would appear some are true intellects, can quote Marx, diffuse Trotskyism and even decide that prosperous nations and well off citizens living in peace within those nations are to be avoided at all costs.
    Great. So if the gini coefficient shows that the gap between the rich and poor is the highest in the world and our murder rate is the highest in the world and we have one of the highest levels of unemployment specifically in the age bracket between 18 -30 years olds, do we really need to debate what the problem is, or do we need to pay more tax and create more opportunities and purpose for this group, that is young, poor and understandably pissed off and without purpose.
    We don’t need any kind of ism, what we require is simply to wake up, be human and give young South Africans a chance. The rich like Malema have enough to make sure this happen, and quite frankly if you don’t it will be taken anyway. Or did you really think that a shack with running water, intermittent electricity supply, a government grant of R200.00 and the odd job at two dollars a day would keep the “natives” happy?
    Don’t get angry with Julius Malema, rather get pissed off at your own stupidity.

  • X Cepting

    @Lyndall Beddy – Which proves that it is not good to accept anything said by a politician without checking. The South African bush war happened in Namibia, South Africa’s buffer zone at the time. Just ask the farmers there what fun the 80’s and 90’s was on the farm…

  • X Cepting

    @Geejay – I totally agree with the -ism syndrome, so-called intellectuals peeve me when they get stuck on disagreeing about -isms and forget that -isms won’t help people. People help people. I would also willingly pay more tax if I knew that it would be spent on improving our education/training systems, the only way to uplift the poor, but, I fear the intent of our government (and many well-off people) is not to do anything for the poor, but to use them as pawns in their own power plays under cover of the word “upliftment”.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    The only battle that I know the ANC to have has any people involved in was Cuito in Angola.

    There were about 6000 ANC in camps scattered over all of Africa – a fraction of Zimbabwe’s “freedom” fighters of 60,000 or any of the other states.

    Famers in Nambibia are not farmers in SA anyhow – so how would killing them liberate SA?

    A former ANC combatant has written an expose of the camps which I must still order and read.

    The truth is the ANC killed thousands of the black IFP and PAC in the townships, not white farmers, as proved in the book “People’s War” by Anthea Jeffery of the South African Institute of race relations.

  • Sidwell

    I’m intrigued by your Abahlali comment. Quite a few people have been killed in that settlement with relatively little publicity. Is it the start of SA’s killing fields?

  • Master Bates

    In 1973, California, graffiti appeared proclaiming, “The bomb’s already dropped. We are the mutants.” The anxieties of the cold war stale-mate had uncovered an ironic revelation. The US were already the victims of the thing they most feared. But in having this realisation, they also came to see that the foreboding thing they thought they feared was already passed. They had come to realise that their anxieties were derived from another, more fundamental source – they already were mutants.
    The bomb has already dropped on South Africa. The hateful machine of civil war consumes its daily diet of rape, murder, corruption and theft. Only in a civil war are such things an established norm. So, I beg your pardon, Mr Rodrigues, would you be so kind as to call a spade, a spade! Forays into Zizekian convolution will not help us. Nay, extending the theories of the Elvis of neo-marxism to common garden variety bigotry, obscures more than it reveals. For heaven’s sake, if it eats aphids & is red with black spots, let’s call it a lady-bug. Not only do you regularly confound us in your column by sheer exhaustion, you lead us astray! Despite Zizek’s pretensions, he does not truly deal with the meat of realpolitik. Like Lacan, his pseudo-therapy is merely an act of distraction – it lacks edification. After a while you can tell which shell contains a hermit crab and which is just a dead husk fading into sand.

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