‘Assault’ on the liberation struggle’s heritage will cause tension

2011-09-17 09:03

With all due respect to Judge Colin Lamont, I fail to see how his banning of a struggle song will help foster reconciliation.

The opposite is bound to happen.

As it became apparent outside the South Gauteng High Court, where ANC supporters defiantly sang “Ayesaba amagwala” minutes after Lamont had given his ruling on Monday, any perceived assault on the liberation struggle’s heritage is likely to cause tension.

This probably explains why AfriForum, the lobby group that brought charges of hate speech against ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema for publicly singing the song, changed its request from asking for a general ban to asking specifically for the youth leader to be interdicted from singing the song.

As a lay person I am not in a position to dispute the judge’s interpretation of the Equality Act and its hate speech provisions. By all indications, the legislation is so open-ended and flawed as to allow for the interpretation the court has opted for.

I have heard the song sung countless times since the late 1980s, yet not once have I ever felt moved to attack white people or Afrikaners.

Similarly, songs such as Miriam Makeba’s Cannon (which contains the lines “We will shoot them with a cannon”), Hamba kahle mkhonto (with the lines “We are prepared to kill the Boers”) and countless others have never stirred genocidal passions in me.

In fact, the judgment admits as much when it says “the song, as originally sung and later recorded, had no effect on the general public”, even as it justifies the ban on the grounds of an impending ethnic cleansing.

I wonder what will happen to the rest of those songs now that an aspect of our history has in effect been delegitimised.

I am also uneasy about a few political aspects of the ruling. The ruling talks about the need for the courts to come to the rescue of minorities, ostensibly because they lack legislative power.

What is unsettling about this assertion is the implicit assumption that minorities are constituted purely on the basis of “race”, ethnicity, population groups, or whatever sociological concepts South African society uses as proxies for “race”.

The idea of permanent racial minorities and majorities harks back to apartheid thinking. It sees identity as immutable.

That is why any attempt at redress and equality is seen by those who currently enjoy privileges as an attack on their communities and ways of life.

In the ideal non-racial society that our Constitution aspires to, minorities and majorities should be based on issues or causes rather than race.

Individuals should hold views on divisive social issues independently of the communities they supposedly belong to.

The courts should see their role as providing legal recourse to all South Africans, not just a so-called minority.

If they are perceived to be inaccessible to the many, they will help reinforce the misguided views of those who argue that courts have become an instrument to reverse the will of the majority as expressed through the ballot.

I agree with the court and those who argue that the humanist philosophy of ubuntu enjoins its adherents to seek reconciliation, to place a premium on human life and to value human dignity.

In a society where oral tradition plays such an important role in the preservation and transmission of history, we can’t afford to ban songs that remind us of those “uncomfortable” aspects of our past.

It is rather unfortunate that some people choose to invoke ubuntu when they want to justify the status quo, in which racism remains a key feature, despite the statutory death of apartheid in 1994.

If we genuinely believed in ubuntu, we would be appalled by the living conditions of most of our compatriots.

We would use it to help improve their lot rather than hide behind the high walls of our suburban houses, or use the pathological geography of apartheid to shield ourselves from the real dehumanisation of our fellow human beings.

Engaging with fellow compatriots, rather than using our economic power to pursue endless litigation, is likely to go a long way towards national reconciliation and common nationhood.

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