Press "Enter" to skip to content

The siren songs of Petty Officer Malema

The Economic Freedom Fighters have unveiled another plank in their nuanced political policy platform. Added to such subtleties as the right to prevent Parliament from operating, and to seize without compensation land and industry for divvying up among their supporters, the EFF are now demanding the removal of the Afrikaans words in the national anthem.

This is a nifty move in the bread and circuses panoply that has become South Africa’s default political position. One must support it fully.

Each word in Die Stem – as it was known in its earlier pre-democracy incarnation – is a neo-colonialist, white-racist dagger that angry and hurt black people can no longer endure. It’s intolerable burdens such as this that cause the mass of black Africans to languish at the bottom of the socio-economic pile, despite BBBEE, African National Congress cadre deployment, affirmative action, and race quotas.

Or as the EFF put it, less subtly, Die Stem is a “song of oppressors, racists and mass murderers”. Much, one supposes, like Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica – God Bless Africa – is the song of the new government’s jackbooted platoons that mowed down 34 Marikana miners with rifles set to full automatic.

But really, if that is what the baying hounds of populism want, there is not much further to be said, except as to what should replace it. The EFF red-bereted, self-styled Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema was believed to have been keen on that old liberation-era campfire favourite, Kill The Boer.

This little ditty has a certain rhythmic simplicity and some wonderfully evocative passages that Julius loved to belt out, albeit that he was too young to be a liberation fighter, such as the choruses “Shoot. Shoot”, repeated 35 times, and “Shoot the Boer”, repeated 20 times.

Now that’s a man’s song! Compare it with the provocative namby-pambyism of the translated four lines from Die Stem that sully our national pride:

Ringing out from our blue heavens

From our deep seas breaking round

Over everlasting mountains

Where the echoing crags resound.

Unfortunately for Obergruppenführer Malema, the SA Human Rights Commission has already ruled that Kill the Boer should not be sung. Some nonsense about “hate speech”.

Also on the EFF short list is Miriam Makeba’s famous Click Song. This has the political advantage of not only being in one of the vernaculars, but because isiXhosa is damnably difficult for a thick European tongue to master, it can serve as a linguistic equivalent of the pencil test of the apartheid years.

The pencil test was a bureaucratic invention of brilliant simplicity. Faced with the task of untangling hopelessly intertwined bloodlines in the days before DNA testing, the arbiters of race simply stuck a pencil into the hair of the individual in question.

If it fell out, you were white and classified accordingly. If it stuck in your mop, you were deemed coloured or Bantu and it was back to the boondocks. And if you just happened to be of swarthy southern European extraction with a thicket of curly locks, in the wrong place at the wrong time … Well, tough luck.

So, too, the Click Song. If you can work your full-throated tongue-twisting way through the 18 different Xhosa clicking sounds, one does not need to reference skin colour to know that you are an indigenous African.

Admittedly, there is the slim possibility that your name is Athol Trollip, or some such paleface settler equivalent, and that because you grew up in the rural Eastern Cape you speak isiXhosa fluently. No problem.

If an ability to click coincides with Caucasian features, it’s simple. You clearly misappropriated indigenous culture to your imperialist, neoliberal, nefarious advantage and you shall have your tongue cut out. Click on that, whitey.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with the Click Song as national anthem. Field Marshall Malema is the victim of an accident of birth. He was born in far north Limpopo and I have it on good authority that he can’t click to save his life — so to speak — despite his PhD in African Linguistics and Revolutionary Zeal from the University of Brezgevegnia.

That leaves perhaps L’Internationale, that stirring 150-year-old hymn of world socialist solidarity. Generalissimus Malema, (Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner) is practising hard but finding that French is almost as tricky as isiXhosa.

The last word should go to CJ Langenhoven, who wrote Die Stem in 1917. A wry man of letters and an MP known for his sardonic take on his fellow Afrikaners, he once commented of the antics in Parliament: “Half of you are donkeys.”

When ordered by the Speaker to withdraw this scurrilous remark, unlike our Julius he obliged immediately. “Half of you are not donkeys,” he said.

When it comes to this latest provocative act of EFF populism, it seems to me easy enough to separate the donkeys from the humans.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • William Saunderson-Meyer

    This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.