Thanks to his popularity, Steve Hofmeyr's race-baiting has been normalised over the years. He has been a fixture on society pages and the airwaves. But it seems those days are over, writes Pieter du Toit.
Steve Hofmeyr is receiving his comeuppance.
His racist comments, aggression, apartheid nostalgia and association with separatist organisations and right-wingers have finally caught up with the singer who calls himself a "volks-nationalist".
This week, broadcaster MultiChoice told the organisers of the Ghoemas, an Afrikaans music awards ceremony, that it would cancel its sponsorship of the event if Hofmeyr remains on the bill. The organisers complied with the ultimatum and were then themselves boycotted by a small group of Afrikaans pop artists. A Cape Town-based pop station also withdrew its support of the event.
MultiChoice's decision came hot on the heels of MTN, Toyota and Media24 withdrawing their support of Afrikaans Is Groot, a money-spinning mega-concert where Hofmeyr also performs annually.
Hofmeyr's transition from talented Afrikaans actor and singer to ethnic fundamentalist has been in progress for years. And society's changing view of Hofmeyr has tracked that.
In 2015, Pick 'n Pay and Jaguar Land Rover withdrew their support for Afrikaans Is Groot (where Hofmeyr performed), while Innibos (the Afrikaans festival in Nelspruit) has shunned Hofmeyr since he belted out the apartheid anthem, Die Stem, the year before. He was dumped by the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in 2015 and hasn't performed there in years.
Vehicle dealership Williams Hunt also took back Hofmeyr's sponsored bakkie during the same year. And, in 2018, the Blue Bulls Rugby Union quietly discarded Hofmeyr's anthem Die Bloubul that used to ring out ahead of matches at Loftus Versfeld.
Hofmeyr is an enigmatic figure. An actor, pop singer and published author of well-received Afrikaans fiction, he has managed to be cast as the martyr for a section of whites and Afrikaners who fear being decimated, murdered and raped. The sweeping narrative in many of his songs is that of a country on the brink, of a land on the edge of destruction and of a people calling out to God for deliverance from genocide.
He has successfully tapped into the formula perfected by some rightist groups in which the pre-1994 era is romanticised as a period of law and order, civic obedience, faith, old-fashioned values and prosperity. His songs and music videos depict a man struggling against the odds, battling farm murders and triumphing when trying to save his own.
But he's gone further than mere nostalgia and activism.
He has tweeted that "blacks are the architects of apartheid". He has continued to sing Die Stem at his concerts. He has trumpeted the old national flag. He calls himself a supporter of racist fringe group Die Suidlanders. He questions whether the k-word is really that unacceptable. He calls government (and/or President Cyril Ramaphosa) "a barbarian". He sees the state as "black" and "overweight". He says his "people" are "dying like flies". He called neo-Nazi Eugène Terre'Blanche a "proud cultural icon".
None of what he says is illegal. But can you blame MultiChoice, or any other company, for not wanting to associate with someone so obviously antagonistic towards the post-1994 constitutional project and the imperative of racial reconciliation? Someone who visibly yearns for the days of Die Stem and the orange-white-and-blue apartheid flag?
Thanks to his popularity, media access and exposure, his statements and race-baiting have been normalised over the years. He has been a fixture on society pages, opinion pages and profile pages, on the airwaves and on television. He even had his own talk show once. But it seems those days are over.
His defenders on the conservative right will deflect and portray the rejection of Hofmeyr by corporates as an assault on Afrikaans, an attack on Afrikaner culture and the closing down of free speech. It is nothing of the sort.
After Toyota withdrew from Afrikaans Is Groot, it announced its sponsorship of Woordfees, an Afrikaans arts festival in Stellenbosch.
MultiChoice spends millions of rand every year investing in Afrikaans television, stage and screen productions. And Media24 is the single most important custodian of the language in the country because of its enormous investment in language and culture through media and sponsorships.
Some of these companies of course exploited Hofmeyr's star power for as long as they could, waiting until it became untenable before cutting their ties with him. They aren't blameless in the game of politics and money. MultiChoice, after all, didn't hesitate to partner with the Guptas, details of which they still refuse to disclose.
Freedom of association, just like free speech, is a right, too. Hofmeyr can sing Die Stem as much as he wants to, he can even wave the old flag, but he cannot then complain if his space to perform is closed down by companies and individuals who don't want to be exposed to it.
It's their right, too.
In 1992, Hofmeyr released a single titled No Hero. Maybe it's time he dusted it off and replaced Die Stem with No Hero at his concerts.