The South African ruling party’s controversial youth leader was found guilty Monday of hate speech for singing “Shoot the Boer,” an apartheid-era song calling for killing white farmers.
It was the second conviction under the Equality Act for Julius Malema, whose divisive rhetoric has upset people as varied as conservative whites and leaders of his own party. The law bans the use of hate speech designed to hurt or threaten any group based on race or sexual orientation.
Malema, one of President Jacob Zuma’s sharpest critics, is also facing an unrelated disciplinary hearing this week before the ruling African National Congress for accusations of sowing division within the party.
Just a few months ago, party stalwarts such as ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Deputy Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom rallied to Malema’s cause in the current hate-speech case, arguing that the song was an important part of the party’s liberation struggle, not an incitement to violence.
Now Hanekom is heading the ANC committee that is hearing Malema’s disciplinary case, and Mantashe denounced the youth leader’s supporters for rioting in Johannesburg last month when the disciplinary hearing started at ANC headquarters.
Malema hasn’t toned down his harsh rhetoric in response to the disciplinary hearing or his previous conviction for hate speech. Over the weekend, he declared “economic war” against whites, warning that there would be casualties in blacks’ fight for economic freedom.
The previous hate-speech conviction related to Malema’s 2009 statement that a woman who accused Zuma of rape in 2006, before he took office, “had a nice time” because she stayed the night and asked for taxi money home. Zuma was acquitted.
High Court Judge Collin Lamont ruled Monday in a debate that has divided and angered South Africans, saying the words of “Shoot the Boer” were discriminatory and harmful. He ordered the words not be used publicly or privately.
Immediately after Lamont handed down his ruling, a group of Malema’s supporters sang the song outside the court in defiance of the order.
Malema deepened South Africa’s ever-present racial wounds when he started singing “Shoot the Boer” at ANC rallies and other public events last year, often pointing his hand as if holding a gun.
His move led to a separate High Court judgment in May that the song was an incitement to murder.
The rights group AfriForum pursued a separate hate-speech charge against Malema, seeking to ban him from singing the song. AfriForum portrays itself as representing all South Africans, but is most often identified with advocacy on behalf of whites, particularly Afrikaners, a group that includes Boers.
In the court hearing on the hate-speech charge earlier this year, Malema’s lawyer, Vincent Maleka, said the youth leader was being muzzled for his political views. He argued that the fact whites didn’t understand the song’s lyrics, which are in the Xhosa language, meant they couldn’t be hurt by them.
“Objectively speaking, someone who doesn’t understand the song cannot understand that it will affect his dignity,” he contended.
However, an attorney for AfriForum, Greta Engelbrecht, who presented part of her case in Xhosa, said many white South Africans spoke the language and understood the meaning of the lyrics. She said that just as whites could never understand the deep hurt the apartheid system caused blacks, no matter how often it was explained, the ANC couldn’t understand the hurt the song caused white Afrikaners.
ANC representatives said at the hearing that the song was not literally about killing white farmers but was symbolic of getting rid of a system of oppression.
AfriForum and farmers groups welcomed the decision to ban the song, but the ANC released a statement calling the decision “an attempt to rewrite South African history.”
It said the party would respect the decision while investigating options such as an appeal.