The following today via BBC News – ANC’s Julius Malema defends ‘shoot the Boer’ song. (This article doesn’t ‘replay’ details of the Malema ‘hate language’ trial. Instead, I explore unique intelligence of South Africa’s Truth and Justice Commission, and suggest that this intelligence is needed. Not only in South Africa, but across 21st Century earth. Readers are encouraged to go to the linked above BBC article for full trial details.)
The head of South Africa’s ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, has taken the witness stand in Johannesburg in a high-profile hate speech trial.
An Afrikaans community is seeking a ban on Mr Malema singing a controversial apartheid-era song with the words “shoot the Boer”.
“Boer” means farmer in Afrikaans and they say its use incites racial hatred.
Mr Malema began his testimony insisting he is not an aggressive man, and that the song should not be taken literally.
The trial grips public attention:
Hundreds of protesters are outside the High Court to witness the dramatic trial, which is being relayed via huge television screens to those outside.
Mr Malema offes an explanation:
“You need to understand the context of the song,” he said in court.
“This song is a historical song which is still relevant to the current conditions of our struggle. For as long as we didn’t declare the struggle to be over, the song remains relevant.”
Heated feelings, emotions, likely involved in hearts and passions of people closest to the argument around the “deadly and threatening words,” can be understood in a “general human psychology” context. And, in this context, there is information relevant to all of us.
South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” of the late 1990’s was immensely significant to the world. The Commission was
a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. (Wikipedia)
At its beginning, and as it unfolded, I was filled with wonder at the Commission. It was a deep affirmation for me that humans would be willing to reach such a plan. It affirmed my ‘sense’ that we have the intelligence to go so deeply into our understanding of suffering, and to go so far to address it with profound understanding of issues of atrocity, guilt, regret, forgiveness, and justice.
A people who had been subjected to deep oppression, brutal murder and atrocity gave clear voice to their experience. The ‘hearers’ – those who had supported or committed the oppression, murder and atrocity, surely had to ‘shut down’ natural excuses such as “I got carried away with momentary passion and couldn’t help it…”, and “Not my idea, I was directed to …”. There was “no wiggling out” allowed – but – in the balance of genuine justice, there was also no allowance for vindictive, vengeful, punishment.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission represented a break-through in human self-governance. A blend of heart and head with a quality of ‘purity’ seldom seen in affairs of governance. 21st Century perspective, ahead of its time.
It seems to me, however, that “wiggling out”, urge to deny responsibility, is exactly what Malema and his supporters now think “justified”.
I certainly don’t want to “take sides”. I do want to point out that what we see in Malema is common human response. Explanations are offered as excuse, as justification. As an elementary classroom teacher I witnessed many such statements from 8 and 9 year olds! My point is: ‘explanation is never the same as justification.’
We’ve witnessed elaborate forms of “explanation justifies action” delivered with sophisticated adult ‘spin’: (BP and others with the Gulf Oil Spill; unending politician statements on why they won’t stand behind their own words of commitment; banks and Wall Street explaining loan scarcity while paying huge rewards to highly placed administrators; and more, from across the globe). In personal matters we hear individuals who’ve delivered ‘rough outcomes’ to other individuals “explain away” their action. Nearly always these more sophisticated spin-excuses are some version of “my hands were tied by circumstance”.
So Malema is not the least unique! He shows us who we are as ‘psychological beings’. He claims the song’s words are ‘not literal’. This may be what he’d like to think, or what he hopes will ‘fly’. But we also know that, in the context of humans responding to perceived threat, the words are “fighting words”. To those who feel vulnerable, the words spark “urge to fight in self-defense”. The vulnerable are rather being asked to “understand” and “put up with it”.
Critically significant is the human experience in ‘felt vulnerability’ that underlies the entire situation. Blacks, for good reason, carry historically based powerful felt vulnerability; the song’s lyrics address this by turning the tables. Lyrics are so ‘absolute’ (deadly) that they spark considerable worry and fear in those of Boer heritage. These powerful underlying human responses to threat are precisely what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission intelligently worked to address by bringing in a process of shared speaking/listening and non-vengeful justice!
I think Malema’s stance lets us realize the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation has faded, or is fading. This is unfortunate.
It would not be ‘that big a deal’ for Malema to take a 21st Century leadership role and declare he’s willing to drop the song, or to change the lyrics. (Recordings of him singing the song include the phrase “shoot to kill” multiple times.) The associated history is hugely brutal, painful, and immediate, in memory of many presently living.
If it is a ‘big deal’ to Malema to drop the lyrics as they are, if he insists on his right to sing them no matter how unsettling they are to listeners, it’s entirely possible his ‘ego’ leads him. He’s not in touch with intent of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission. This is easily understood, and is common human psychology. He’s far from alone in not being able to drop an emotional attachment or shift its expression to a more helpful, less problematic, form. Unfortunately, continued insistence on singing unsettling lyrics may not support ‘best outcome’ for aspirations of anyone in South Africa, no matter their cultural heritage.
It’s fair and reasonable, for those of us who observe, to ‘conclude’ that the wounds of history obviously are not healed. To say so is explanation. It informs. It shows our capacity to understand ourselves. This is a good omen – we need to understand ourselves as emotional, psychological, beings! As observers of controversy around Malema, if we are in touch with our own humanity, we can point out common human experience in felt vulnerability. We witness felt vulnerability to harm. (See footnote ‘1’ below re vulnerability and link to Malema BBC Hardtalk interview.)
In all reports of this “song lyrics issue” we witness felt vulnerability to blame if (we admit we’ve been excessive). We witness possible “seduction and ultimate harm” of achieving fame and leadership position. None of these ‘felt’ experiences are ‘wrong’! They are common to human experience in even the smallest moments and do not fade in “big story” human doings. We can understand all of this!
Understanding by itself, however, does not reach into the realm of genuine justice that heals.
Healing requires that we make use of our insight, our understanding. It requires the levels of acknowledgment and forgiveness demonstrated by the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.
“Everything is model for everything”. Because of the ‘size’ or the Malema story (an entire nation stirred), it works well as model for other very large human conflict issues.
It’s remarkable that the very same ‘set’ of people, the nation of South Africa, demonstrated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the world – a greatly ‘enlightened’ way for humans to resolve conflict – conflict with an extreme history of brutality and violence! That’s a huge “gift to the table of humanity” and should be honored as such! The Truth and Reconcilliation Commission far surpasses “achievements” such as flying into space. It addresses the ‘trickiest’ of our earthly experiences and ‘dreams’ – humanity stretching to profound healing. If thought of as an experiment, it can be thought among the best we’ve offered ourselves due to its scale. It showed us what we can do!
Whether or not the spirit of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission returns, and is allowed to be the standard of performance guiding minds and hearts of all involved, remains to be seen.
I hope, for the outcome of humanity in the 21st Century, it does.
My Best! –MaggieAnn
(1) While writing this article I found myself listening to an extensive – maybe 15-20 min – BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview on World News with Malema. Mid-stream I made the following notes: Malema expresses the vulnerability I write about in my post very well. Malema says: “In being told we can’t sing the song, we are being asked to forget. We can’t forget.” (quote paraphrased but close) At hearing this, we’re reminded of yet another aspect of healing. An aspect often not understood is depth of pain and time required to express it in some form. …The interviewer at this moment is saying: “after 17 years, you’re saying (economic) justice has not been achieved?” (How easily we assume “it’s done”, “all is well”!) The interview I’m hearing continues… Malema seems to miss some valid points of challenge, but his answer reveals continued felt insecurity of “black potential and achievement” in South Africa.) … It’s a quality interview, Malema describes his take on historical and current conditions for Blacks in S.A., and his long-term intentions. (Programe is BBC Hardtalk, video interview. Link goes to Hardtalk ‘clip’ of 2:50 length. I hoped full interview would be archived and will change the link if I can find the full interview.)
(2) (Also: There’s a huge argument on “free speech” issues with the Malema trial. A central question is whether or not passing laws is effective in causing people change behavior. I’ll not ‘go there’ today, as my ‘theme’ is underlying fears, vulnerabilities, felt by all involved. I think the law can be, and sometimes must be, used to ‘nudge’ outward civility. This doesn’t repair underlying seething emotions, but may create enough calm to allow work on a healing process. Of course, if we ‘explain’ and ‘justify’ use of law to ‘nudge’, we must follow through! The ‘calm’ provided is not evidence of healing. There’s work to do during the ‘calm’!)