Andrew Kenny: “Kill the boer” and the complexities of free speech

Diving into the complex landscape of South African politics, Andrew Kenny dissects the contentious chant ‘Kill the Boer’ by Julius Malema and the subsequent reactions it triggered. The author delves into contrasting viewpoints on whether the chant should be condemned as hate speech or dismissed as harmless symbolism. While exploring the potential dangers of such rhetoric in a country marked by historical tensions, the article navigates the fine line between freedom of expression and incitement to violence.

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Murder, genocide and songs of hate

By Andrew Kenny*

After Julius Malema had chanted â€˜Shoot to kill! Kill the Boer, the farmer! Kill the Boer, the farmer! Brrrr! Pah! Pah!’ to thunderous applause in front of a delighted crowd of 100 000 at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg at the end of last month, another South African, Elon Musk, now living in the USA, publicly objected. He tweeted, ‘They are openly pushing for genocide of white people in SA. Cyril Ramaphosa, why do you say nothing?’

The reactions to Musk’s tweet, here and abroad, were revealing. The New York Timesexplained that Malema’s chant had been deliberately misunderstood by ‘right-wingers’. Actually it was nothing but a harmless freedom song that had been used in the past to ‘mobilise against an oppressive system’. It couldn’t possibly cause any harm. It pointed out, correctly, that the South African Equality Court had ruled that ‘Kill the Boer’ is not hate speech. It implied that anybody who objected to ‘Kill the Boer’ was probably just a racist, to be condemned more than Malema. In South Africa, our very own Professor Pierre de Vos agreed with the NYT. To show their disdainful superiority over the rest of us humourless, low-class whites, Richard Poplak, editor-at-large at the Daily Maverick, and De Vos, a Daily Maverick contributor, composed a little joke. ‘What wine pairs best with white genocide?’ Answer: ‘Allesverloren blanc de blanc’.

I guarantee you that if any white person had made such a joke about black genocide, Poplak and de Vos would have shrieked with horror, and demanded the arrest of the evil joker. Why the difference? There is only one explanation that fits the facts: they believe that whites are fully developed adult human beings who can take a joke whereas blacks are helpless little children who can’t. If Penny Sparrow, who tweeted that black people on a beach were like monkeys, had said that she was only joking, I guarantee you that would not have helped her at all. I think this helps to explain their tolerance of Malema’s chant and the ecstatic approval of the large crowd who heard it. Look, they are black, rather like children. They don’t really mean it. They’re just having a bit of harmless fun in asking for white farmers to be killed. The fact that a large number of white farmers and their wives and their children have actually been shot and killed, often after prolonged torture, is not connected to the chant in any way.

Ernst Roets of AfriForum thinks differently. I have now almost finished reading his thoughtful, carefully researched and horrifying book, Kill the Boer (published 2018). It is about the farm murders. It has taken me a long time to read it because I often have to put it down, take a few deep breaths, and walk around for a while before returning to it. Roets gives detailed statistics on the farm attacks and terrible descriptions of them. He speculates intelligently on the motives for the attacks and the deliberate sadism of many of them. He denies there is any deliberate programme of white genocide, but gives good evidence to show some increase in attacks after Malema’s calls to ‘Kill the Boer’, and gives instances where the perpetrators have said that the song had inspired them to murder. Maybe the killers are not as clever as Poplak and de Vos, and don’t realise that ‘Kill the Boer’ is just harmless fun.

Blood on the wall

In one case a murderer had written ‘Kill the Boer’ in blood on the wall of a Boer family he had just killed. Roets’s book is dedicated to the memory of Wilmien Potgieter, a two-year-old girl, murdered in 2010 on a farm in the Free State. Father, mother and daughter were returning to their farm when they were attacked by six men with guns and pangas. The father was stabbed and hacked to death. The two-year-old girl went over to her fallen father, soaking her little feet in his blood. They killed her. The mother, who had seen all this, was forced to open the safe, then to kneel down, and was shot dead. I wonder what their loved ones would think of Poplak’s and de Vos’s witty jest.

South Africa is a tinder box of random hatred and violence. The slightest spark can light a fire. In July 2021, 359 died in the riots in KZN caused by what nobody exactly knows. We have one of the highest murder rates in the world. We live in fear, especially in the poor black townships. We are all looking over our shoulders. To shout ‘Shoot to Kill! Kill the Boer, the farmer!’ in this explosive mix seems to me irresponsible. It frightens me to know that many people think it is just fine and even applaud Malema for singing it.

On Thursday 3 August, during the taxi strike in Cape Town, a British doctor, Kar Hao Teoh, was shot dead in Ntlangano Crescent, Nyanga. His murder has been all over the British media. In a sinister phrase, used by all of them, they say Dr Teoh ‘took a wrong turn’ as he was leaving Cape Town Airport on his way to Cape Town. This implies you might die if you take a ‘wrong turn’ in South Africa. Unfortunately it is true. Dr Teoh was driving with his wife and two-year-old son (the same age as Wilmien Potgieter). I know what ‘wrong turn’ he took since I, who have no sense of direction, have nearly taken it myself; the signs are not very clear. Instead of taking the Airport Approach Rd, he took the Borcherds Quarry Rd, crossed the N2 and entered Nyanga on Ntlangano Crescent. A group of men approached him demanding money. He refused and was shot dead in front of his wife and little son. They did not kill them. Community workers rescued the survivors and took them to a place of safety. What were the motives for the murder? Why didn’t they kill the mother and little boy as well? Who can tell the instantaneous thoughts of such people at such times?

Teoh’s murder was condemned by Patricia de Lille, formerly of the PAC but now of the GOOD Party and now Minister of Tourism for the ANC. De Lille had been an enthusiastic supporter of the PAC’s chant, ‘One settler, one bullet!’. In August 1993, a 26-year-old American anti-apartheid activist, Amy Biehl was driving through Gugulethu in Cape Town. A hundred young men surrounded her car shouting ‘One settler, one bullet!’ They murdered her. It seems to me that the chant might have led to her murder, in the same way as ‘Kill the Boer!’ might have led to some of the farm murders.

No programme of white genocide

I say again, there is no programme of white genocide in South Africa. It is interesting to look at the incidence of real genocide in all of Africa. Genocide literally means the entire extinction of a race or people, but has come to mean the deliberate killing of a large number of one race or people. White killing of black people in King Leopold’s Congo from 1886 to 1908, or in German South West Africa from 1904 to 1907 could be called genocide. Since then, for all the cruelty and racism of European conquest of Africa, I don’t think there has been any killing large enough to qualify as genocide. There has never been any genocide of whites by blacks. There have been incidents, notably in the Congo in 1964, where whites were deliberately killed, but never in numbers big enough to amount to genocide. While I was at school in the 1950s, we were told that ‘thousands’ or even ‘millions’ of white people had been killed in the Mau-Mau uprisings in Kenya. The actual number was fewer than 50. By an enormous margin the worst genocides in Africa have been by black people against other black people.

Black Africans have by far the greatest genetic variation of any people on Earth. This is because they are the original human beings and have had much longer to develop racial diversity. There is a vast number of African races. White races and black races have the same tendency to hate each other, as Hitler showed, but there are more black races and therefore more opportunity for hatred and genocide. In 1972, in Burundi in Central East Africa, the ruling Tutsis, compromising about 14% of the population, set about a deliberate, systematic racial slaughter of the Hutu, comprising about 85%. Tutsi death squads went to all the high schools, pulled out the Hutu children and killed them. Any Hutu in any occupation above unskilled labour was killed. About 300,000 black people were murdered. The world yawned. This was the same world that had screamed and shouted when white police killed 69 black protestors at Sharpeville in 1960. Idi Amin began his reign of terror over other black races in the same year, and in deliberate slaughter is said to have killed about 300,000 black people. For this he was made chairman of the Organisation of African Unity.

In 1990, a Tutsi army, eventually led by Paul Kagame, invaded Rwanda. Its aim was to overthrow the majority Hutu government there and establish a racial dictatorship under minority Tutsi rule. The Hutu population feared the same fate as the Hutu in Burundi. They knew Kagame promised them death or slavery. They became hysterical at the prospect. In April 1994, the President’s plane was shot down, almost certainly by Kagame. The Hutu exploded into a killing frenzy, murdering about 800,000 Tutsis. The Tutsi army eventually crushed the Hutu army, and Kagame established a ferocious, racist, super-apartheid dictatorship, which is much admired by the Western world. In Zimbabwe in 1983 President Mugabe implemented Operation Gukurahundi, in which over 20,000 Ndebele men, women and children were killed in a carefully planned government program of racial slaughter. Once again, the world said nothing.

Should be condemned

I say all this just to put a proper context onto ‘genocide’. Nobody I know, certainly not Ernst Roets, is saying that ‘Kill the Boer!’ is a call to slaughter whites in the same way that Mugabe slaughtered blacks. What we are saying is that ‘Kill the Boer’ is racist and hateful, and very dangerous in such a volatile country as South Africa. I am saying it should be condemned. I think it should be banned, not under hate speech, but under the common-law ban on incitement to violence.

Douglas Gibson of the DA has recently written in Politicsweb that Malema is ‘just an empty man’ and ‘is Commander-in-Chief of a pseudo-army’. Gibson is right that Malema in himself is just a plump clown with a big voice and Gucci accessories. That doesn’t really matter. What matters is what he stands for – or rather stands against – and his power to influence people. We all saw the crowd of 100 000 cheering his song of hate. We have all seen horrible racial atrocities committed by deranged people for who knows what motives but open to hateful influence.

The ANC, especially President Ramaphosa, is obviously scared of Malema and has almost certainly adopted disastrous policies such as Expropriation Without Compensation (EWC) because of pressure from the EFF.

Malema matters and so does his song of hatred.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

*Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.

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