South Africa: Anti-apartheid song declared ‘hate speech’


13 September 2011

South Africa:
Anti-apartheid song declared ‘hate speech’ by high court

On 12 September 2011, South Africa’s high court banned the ruling ANC party from singing the old anti-apartheid song ‘Shoot the Boer’, and the controversial leader of ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, who has made the song his signature tune, was found guilty of hate crimes.

The verdict of the high court upheld a ruling by a lower court and said that ‘Dubhula Ibhunu’ — which translates to ‘Shoot the Boer’, or: ‘Shoot a white farmer’ — is a racist song, inciting to murder. The judge “interdicted the ANC and Julius Malema from singing the songs in private or public.” People who sing the song would be in contempt of court.

At the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, sitting as Equality Court, Judge Collin Lamont urged the ANC to find new customs which did not bring disunity between black farmers and white Afrikaners. “The words undermine [the Afrikaners’] dignity, are discriminatory and harmful. No justification exists allowing the words to be sung. The words were in any event not sung on a justifiable occasion,” he said, and added that in post-apartheid South Africa, all citizens are supposed to treat each other as equal citizens.

Appeal to Constitutional Court
ANC national executive committee member Jessie Duarte told eNews channel later on that same day of the ruling that the party would appeal the decision in a ruling slammed by advocates of free speech and take it all the way to the Constitutional Court.

Julius Malema has sung ‘Dubhula Ibhunu’ at many of his political rallies and other public events, often pointing his hand as if holding a gun. The court convicted him to pay the legal costs, but does not face any further punishment.

‘Protection of minority groups’
Julius Malema and other ANC leaders had argued that the song was a celebration of the fight against minority rule. They said the words of the old freedom song were not meant to be taken literally. The song’s lyrics are in the Xhosa language. The ANC representatives said they were appalled at the judgement, which they called “an attempt to rewrite” South Africa’s history. The said that the song was not literally about killing white farmers but was symbolic of getting rid of a system of oppression.

Meanwhile, the deputy chief executive of AfriForum — the group which had opened this civil case against Julius Malema in the Equality Court — Ernst Roets stated: “It’s a milestone judgment for the protection of minority groups.”

‘Opening a can of worms’
Haru Mutasa, an Africa correspondent for Al Jazeera English, wrote in her blog:
“This ruling may have opened a can of worms. (…) I suspect the fiery youth league leader may sing the song in public again … he has done it before. Police didn’t arrest ANC supporters singing the Shoot the Boer song outside the court room on Monday. What will happen when ANC supporters gather at a political rally and thousands start belting out the tune?
Some people are calling this case a black versus white issue. Some are even saying had the judge been black the ruling might have been different. Just when you think South Africa is moving forward with regards to race issues … events like this remind us the country has a long way to go.”

Law expert: ‘Unconstitutional’
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos told the Mail & Guardian that while “Lamont made a reasonable ruling under the Equality Act”, the Equality Act itself was not constitutional when referring to hate speech: “The Equality Act is unconstitutional. The Equality Act’s definition of hate speech is far broader than that in the Constitution.”

The Equality Act defines hate speech in this manner:

“No person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to (a) be hurtful; (b) be harmful or to incite harm; or (c) promote or propagate hatred.”

Rhodes Journalism Professor Jane Duncan, previously of the Freedom of Expression Institute, agreed: There is a “strong argument to be made that the Equality Act, when referring to hate speech, is unconstitutional,” she told the Mail & Guardian. According to the South African Constitution, hate speech has “to advocate hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender and religion” and to “incite listeners to cause harm,” and there is still a big debate in legal circles about what constitutes “harm”.

“Those who value freedom of speech want a narrow definition of harm as possible,” Jane Duncan said.

Journalism professor: ‘Thought control’
The core of this debate concerns the question of how to effectively balance the right to dignity with the right to freedom of speech: Is dignity is as important as freedom of expression?

“That ANC members may not sing the song even in private, borders on thought control.”
Lamont’s ruling “will not make the song go away,” Jane Duncan told Mail & Guardian. “But it may make the singing of the song an act of rebellion in eyes of people who sing it.”

This was shown when ANC supporters outside the South Gauteng High Court started singing ‘Dubhula Ibhunu’ on hearing it had been banned by the Equality Court, she added.

Jane Duncan also said she thought that the judge had stretched the definition of hate speech in ruling that the song had undermined the dignity of the Afrikaners, the white South Africans with Boer background.

Malema: An influential figure
30-year-old Julius Sello Malema has been described by both President Jacob Zuma and the Premier of Limpopo Province as the ‘future leader’ of South Africa. He is popular among many young members of the ANC party, who can identify with his statements that the whites are still those who have economic power and that too many blacks are still unemployed, poor and have not received what the ANC government has promised. President Jacob Zuma, who hopes to get re-elected next year, came to power himself because of the support of Malema in particular. And in 2008 Malema vowed that he was ready to ‘kill’ for Jacob Zuma.


Malema supporters in front of the court in April 2011

Click to read more about music in South Africa
South Africa

“They are scared, the cowards.

You should shoot the Boer.

They rob, these dogs.”

Excerpt of the lyrics of ‘Dubula Ibhunu’ (Shoot the Boer).

Poll on Independent Online on 13 September 2011

Julius Malema
Julius Malema

More about the same topic

Google News – countinuously updated:

Search: “Shoot the Boer”

Read more about ‘hate music’ on


Mail & Guardian – 13 September 2011:

‘ANC to appeal ‘Shoot the boer’ ban as ruling slammed’

Independent Online, IOL News, South Africa – 12 September 2011:

‘An innocent chant or threat to Afrikaners?’

Al Jazeera blog by Haru Mutasa – 12 September 2011:

‘’Shoot the Boer’ freedom song banned’

BBC World – 12 September 2011:

‘ANC Julius Malema’s Shoot the Boer ruled ‘hate speech’’

BBC World – 20 April 2011:

‘ANC’s Malema testifies over song’


Archived screendumps of the initial debate on Facebook

Click to see archived screendumpClick to see archived screendump

Related articles on this topic

The News York Times – 30 April 2011:

‘Shoot the Boer’ On Trial

Mail & Guardian – 2 March 2011:

‘Bono says no support for ‘shoot the boer’ song’

Sunday Times – 13 February 2011:

‘Bono reflects on “shoot the boer” song’

Newstime – 13 February 2011:

‘U2 Bono?’

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