US & World

Apartheid-Era Song Swells Racial Tensions In S. Africa

In South Africa, a judge has ruled that a song once sung by anti-apartheid activists as a rallying cry against the white minority regime is now "unconstitutional and unlawful." The ruling has touched off a bitter racial debate in a country still grappling with its racist past.

Anyone found singing "Kill the Boer," the judge said, could face charges of incitement to murder.

Julius Malema, president of the ruling African National Congress Party's Youth League, has drawn criticism for singing "Kill the Boer" in a crowded stadium during his 29th birthday celebration. The Boers — white South Africans also known as Afrikaners — didn't appreciate that.

"It is incitement to violence and hatred directed at a particular group in South Africa, which is — the word that Malema is using is ibhunu, but it particularly means 'boer' or 'farmers,' " says Ernst Roets, the national chairperson for AfriForum Youth, a wing of an Afrikaner civil rights organization. The group is seeking a full trial to ban "Kill the Boer" and other such songs.

But African National Congress spokesman Jackson Mthembu says the song is being taken out of context. He says it is about the fight against oppressive white minority rule or apartheid.

"At the time, Dubula Ibhunu meant — and it still means — kill apartheid," he says. "You could not make a difference between the system of apartheid and the Afrikaner community at the time."

President Jacob Zuma and the ANC have pledged to go to the country's highest court to "protect and defend" the song as an integral part of their heritage of struggle for freedom and justice. Mthembu says the earlier judicial ruling was "incompetent."

But Roets says that while heritage is important, "it's unacceptable to try to justify a song in which the killing of a particular group is encouraged — to say that it must be seen in context and it's part of their heritage."

Roets' organization has drawn up a list of some 1,600 white farmers murdered in recent years. The ANC says the song was not responsible.

But Roets says a song like "Kill the Boer" creates a climate for such violence, and says that since Malema sang the song, it has stirred up deep emotions in Afrikaners.

"I can tell you, we've literally received over a thousand e-mails and phone calls from people who are, on the one side, very sad and very scared about these statements, and on the other side, people who are very angry and frustrated, and they want to do something," Roets says.

The ANC's Mthembu says: "Like in everything else, some words might be frowned upon now, when you look back, but at the time there was no frowning ... so it doesn't assist you to ban them. What should assist you is for all of us not to repeat apartheid."

But with the re-emergence of the song, the fragile racial peace that's existed since apartheid is being challenged — not only in the courts but on Facebook, where both blacks and whites are exchanging bitter comments that hark back to the days of apartheid. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit