Don’t tell me how to remember my history

2011-02-26 11:50

The controversy around the ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema — and by extension against the African National Congress — singing “Dubula iBhunu” (Shoot the Boer), a song that ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe defends as “part of the struggle history to liberate South Africa” has highlighted the ongoing debate around the role of songs in the African liberation struggle in South Africa.

Songs are a historical source of ­know-ledge. Written in indigenous ­languages and intended for a specific ­audience, they mean different things to different people.

Almost a decade ago, I began?research?at Robben Island Museum on freedom songs sung by former ­prisoners on the island.

Over time, I came to realise that these songs were not just a means of communication, but that they are part of our historical archive, and of our culture and heritage.

AfriForum, in bringing a case of hate speech against Malema, is doing what apartheid tried to do: ban the history of a people.

Except this time they are not calling that history barbaric or uncivilised; this time they’re calling it hate speech.

AfriForum’s action shows a total disrespect for the heritage and cultural history of the African majority whose indigenous African languages are used to sing liberation songs. There is a wealth of indigenous knowledge in “Dubula iBhunu” and other songs that Malema — and most of us — continue to sing.

The ANC government must not mince their words on this one.

They must tell AfriForum and those who support their action that these songs are the archive of the people of South Africa – black and white.

We cannot allow Afri­Forum to burn the archive by banning this song through the courts.

Those whose forebears enslaved and colonised the African and black majority for three centuries and more cannot dictate to us, how we should write our history of struggle and liberation.

And perhaps most importantly, the ANC celebrates its centenary in 2012.

It’s symbolic of a hundred-year ­commitment made by African people to liberate themselves from the bondage of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. In my study I argue that the ANC went through so many turning points in its hundred years’ ­history.
These turning points were ­captured in the liberation songs sung by the oppressed majority from January 8 1912 (when the ANC was founded in Bloemfontein) and will continue to be sung ­until January 8 2012 when the ANC ­returns to ­Mangaung in Bloemfontein to celebrate this historic achievement in ­African ­history.

In his groundbreaking work, Blues People: Negro Music in White America in 1963, Amiri Baraka writes that “as I began to get into the history of the music, I found that this was impossible without, at the same time, getting deeper into the history of the people.

That it was the history of the people as text, as tale, as story, as exposition, narrative or what have you, that the music was scored, the actually expressed creative orchestration, reflection, of life, our words, the libretto, to those actual, lived lives.

That the ­music was an orchestrated, vocalised, hummed, chanted, blown, beaten, scatted, corollary confirmation of the history.

And that one could go from one to the other, actually the inside to the outside, or reverse, and be talking about the same things.

That the music was explaining the history as the history was explaining the music, and that both were expressions of and reflections of the people!”

“Dubula iBhunu” explains our history, and our history is reflected in our liberation songs. The point is made by Ray Phiri of Stimela when he said: “Our ­history is locked in our songs.”

The celebration of the ANC centenary year will be incomplete without the song “Dubula iBhunu”.

» Ramoupi is a research specialist at the African ­Institute of South Africa in Tshwane.

He writes in his personal capacity.

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