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ANC youth leader defends ‘shoot the farmer’ song

The firebrand youth leader of South Africa’s ruling party took the witness stand Wednesday to defend himself against hate speech charges over a song with the lyrics “shoot the farmer”.

The anti-apartheid struggle song has been at the centre of a politically charged controversy in South Africa, where Julius Malema, the president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) youth league, is locked in a legal battle with a white lobby group that wants it banned as hate speech.

Hundreds of Malema supporters who were bussed in from around the country packed the street in front of the Johannesburg court house where he appeared Wednesday, cheering, singing and dancing as his testimony was broadcast live on a giant TV screen outside.

Malema told the court that the song — whose Zulu chorus, “Dubula ibhulu”, means “shoot the boer”, or farmer — was not his personal anthem but part of ANC heritage and a legacy of the struggle against white-minority rule.

“This is an old song that was sang by leaders before us and we are just continuing with it. This is not my song,” he said.

He denied that the lyrics, which he has made his trademark at rallies, targeted white people or were meant to incite violence, saying the word “ibhulu” meant only “oppressor”.

“Our struggle has never been directed at white people,” he said.

But Afriforum, the lobby group that brought the case, argues the word — which is itself derived from the word “boer” in Afrikaans, the language descended from South Africa’s Dutch colonisers — is used to single out whites.

“The word ‘boer’, in this context, is a derogatory word referring to farmers, whites and to Afrikaners in particular,” it said in an affidavit.

The proceedings have captivated South Africa as top ANC leaders and ministers have taken the stand to defend the song as a piece of national history, while lawyers for Afriforum have argued it constitutes hate speech and incites anti-white violence.

With proceedings broadcast on television, the debate has galvanised the country in the run-up to local elections on May 18.

Malema supporters, who crowded outside the court carrying signs with slogans like “Our history will never be erased” and “Dubula song belongs to South Africans”, defended the song’s place in history and the youth leader’s right to sing it.

“No one can stop us to sing our songs, which are remembering our history, so we know where we are from and we can teach our children, we can teach our youth, we can teach everybody our history,” Baatseba Leshaba, an ANC member from the northern province of Limpopo, told AFP.

Malema’s singing of the song generated heated debate last year in the wake of the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche, a white separatist leader who was allegedly hacked to death by two black workers on his farm.

Violence on farms is a sensitive issue in South Africa, where a series of racially charged rural murders, with both black and white victims, have made headlines since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.

Malema, a divisive figure in the post-apartheid political arena, has made regular headlines with a series of racially-tinged controversies.

He was found guilty of hate speech last year for saying that President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser had “a nice time”. He has refused to pay the 50,000 rand (7,000 dollars, 5,000 euros) fine, which would go to a centre for abused women.

Earlier this month he took a veiled stab at the white leader of the country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance’s Helen Zille, asking supporters, “Have you ever seen an ugly woman in a blue dress dancing like a monkey because she is looking for votes?”

Malema’s hate speech hearing began April 11 and is set to run for 10 days.