“Shoot the Boer”- South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Challenge

In South Africa, Judge Colin Lamont found Julius Malema guilty of hate speech. Mr. Malema is a 30-year-old leader of the Youth League of the African National Congress. Mr. Malema frequently sang an apartheid-era freedom song entitled “Shoot the Boer.” Some believe that Boer refers to whites specifically, although it is said to mean farmer.

Judge Lamont stated that allowing Mr. Malema to continue singing such a hateful song about killing whites could lead to genocide. Mr. Malema defended himself by arguing that the song was a “symbolic rallying cry to dismantle apartheid,” as opposed to an encouragement to murder. Judge Lamont did not agree with Mr. Malema, finding that singing this song constituted hate speech. In addition, Judge Lamont outlawed the refrain insinuating that white farmers be shot. This finding resulted in Mr. Malema being ordered to pay court costs. It is unclear at this time whether Mr. Malema will appeal the judgment.

This case raises questions concerning hate speech and freedom of speech. Was Mr. Malema simply exercising his right to free speech, as provided for him by the democratic government of South Africa? The answer to this question has to be considered in the context of a post-apartheid South Africa. The country is still dealing with the ramifications of segregation that took place for decades. Was Judge Lamont correct in stating that singing such a song could eventually lead to a genocide of whites? Some, like Mr. Malema would argue that the song merely expresses a liberation effort of the suppressed.

Does Judge Lamont’s ruling seem fair? Does singing “Shoot the Boer” reflect hate speech or the concept of freedom of speech? Is this ruling an indication of Africa’s growth or digression since the apartheid-era?

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/world/africa/13southafrica.html?_r=1&ref=world

4 comments

  1. I agree with the Court, this type of “hate speech” could rally and excite people. After an almost 50 year rule by the National Party Government of South Africa implementing a system of legal racial segregation it is too soon and too fresh in the minds of South Africans to allow even the possibility of upheaval. Understandably, a fairly new democratic society, such as South Africa’s does not want to begin by suppressing free speech, however, it seems that the country is still in transition and everything possible should be done to continue the progress of equality and freedom. I believe Judge Lamont said it best, “People must develop new customs and rejoice in a developing society by giving up old practices which are hurtful to members who live in that society with them. The enemy has become the friend, the brother. This new approach to each other must be fostered.” It is important to continuation of Democracy to monitor the progress of people, change will not happen overnight.

  2. “The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as aching heart is relieved by its tears.” – Frederick Douglass

    After doing a little research on this song, it’s disappointing that it cannot be given the same kind of respect slave songs and work songs hold in American black history. Slaves, unable to read or write, were able to express forbidden feelings and desires, such as anger, resentment, and a longing for freedom through one of the only emotional and spiritual outlets available to them: songs. Beyond being an outlet for expression, they also allowed slaves to communicate secret messages and information via code.

    The rich history of slave and work songs have influenced major forms of “American” music today: gospel, jazz, rock and roll, Motown, even rap. They have been memorialized (e.g. Showboat). We respect these songs for what they remind us of – a difficult era in the American past. Were there songs about killing white plantation owners? Probably. If one were sung today, would it incite mass violence? I personally doubt it, unless it was incorporated into a highly visible racist movement of some kind.

    But cultural context feeds the legal perspective. Post-apartheid racial tension has been rising. Pure freedom of speech may not be a luxury South Africans can afford at the moment.

  3. I would have to disagree with the court here. It is always a challenging balancing act in a relatively new government such as this one to weigh individual freedoms of expression against the larger greater good, but here I believe there has been a misstep. Yes, the apartheid is still freshly painful in the mind of many, but that should not stand as an excuse for government officials to repress traditions. Of course I have the luxury of viewing this problem from thousand miles away from the racial unrest that still exists in South Africa, so I do not know the full extent of the racial ramifications involved. To an outsider it seems unlikely that a song along could lead to genocide. This seems to be an act of extreme and exaggerated preemption.

  4. I too agree that Judge Lamont made the correct decision in this case. In any country, especially one as fragile as South America, it is important for hate speech to be silenced. Mr. Malema may argue that his right to free speech is limited by this decision, but the Judge made the correct choice by balancing the differing interests at stake. While free speech is important in any democratic society, speech such as this can have severe and disastrous effects on society as a whole. South Africa needs to move forward and make sure that tragedies such as Apartheid never occur again. While it is important to remember the past, South Africans must also make sure that they do not repeat the past, whether it be a repeat of apartheid or a mass killing of any race.

    Mr. Malema’s hate speech seems to me to be especially dangerous being that he was preaching his song to young and impressionable minds. It would be a great calamity if children grew up in South Africa singing songs about murdering others, because it is likely that words like these may be put into motion. Whether Mr. Malema was referring to white people, or just farmers in general, is it important to stop the song’s popularity, since young children will be unable to distinguish reality from a mere song, and may grow up with notions that it is okay to desire and to murder whites.

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