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Apartheid-Era Song Swells Racial Tensions In S. Africa

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Apartheid-Era Song Swells Racial Tensions In S. Africa

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Apartheid-Era Song Swells Racial Tensions In S. Africa

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now from South Africa a story about a controversial song. The song was once sung by anti-apartheid activists as a rallying cry against the white minority regime. Now a judge has ruled it's unconstitutional and unlawful. And the judge says anyone found singing the song could face charges of incitement to murder. The ruling has touched off a bitter racial debate in a country still grappling with its past. NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports.

Mr. JULIUS MALEMA (African National Congress Party's Youth League): I want you to send an appreciation from me and the premier to the grandmothers and fathers.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. MALEMA: (Unintelligible)

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Julius Malema, the president of the ruling African National Congress Party's Youth League, was speaking in a crowded stadium, celebrating his 29th birthday. And the appreciation continued with him singing "Kill the Boer." And the Boers also known as Afrikaners didn't appreciate that.

Mr. ERNST ROETS (AfriForum Youth): (Unintelligible) is one person who was murdered in - I think it was 2003.

HUNTER-GAULT: Ernst Roets, showing me a painting depicting thousands of South Africans of all races murdered since 2003, is the national chairperson for AfriForum Youth, a wing of an Afrikaner civil rights organization. It's seeking a full trial to ban "Kill the Boer" and other such songs.

Ms. ROETS: It is incitement to violence and hatred directed at a particular group in South Africa, which is the word that Malema is using is�ibhunu, but it particularly means buda(ph), or farmers.

HUNTER-GAULT: But ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu says the song is being taken out of context. He says it's about the fight against oppressive white minority rule, or apartheid.

Mr. JACKSON MTHEMBU (Spokesman, African National Congress): At the time,�Dubula Ibhunu�meant and it still means kill apartheid. You could not make a difference between the system of apartheid and the Afrikaner community at the time.

HUNTER-GAULT: President Jacob Zuma and the ANC have pledged to go to the country's highest court to protect and defend the song as an integral part of their heritage of struggle for freedom and justice. Mthembu says the earlier judicial ruling was incompetent.

But Ernst Roets says while heritage is important...

Mr. ROETS: It's unacceptable to try to justify a song in which the killing of a particular group is encouraged to say that it must be seen in context and it's part of their heritage.

HUNTER-GAULT: Roets' organization has drawn up a list of some 1,600 white farmers murdered in recent years. The ANC says the song was not responsible. But Roets says a song like "Kill the Boer" creates a climate for such violence, and says since Malema sang the song it has stirred up deep emotions in Afrikaners.

Mr. ROETS: I can tell you, we've literally received over a thousand emails and phone calls from people who are on the one side very sad and very, very scared about these statements, and on the other side people who are very angry and frustrated and they want to do something.

HUNTER-GAULT: The ANC's Mthembu says...

Mr. MTHEMBU: The words, some words, like in everything else, some words might be frowned upon now, when you look back, but at the time there was no frowning upon it, so it doesn't assist you to ban them. What should assist you is for all of us not to repeat, not to repeat apartheid.

HUNTER-GAULT: But with the re-emergence of the song, the fragile racial peace that's existed since apartheid is being challenged not only in the courts but on Facebook, where both blacks and whites are exchanging bitter comments that hearken back to the days of apartheid.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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