IT IS now customary that whenever something controversial or unacceptable happens “culture” or “tradition” are brought in to explain away the mess and make the rest of us spellbound. Even songs are used as magical ploys by the ruling Pied Pipers for their manipulation.
The African National Congress (ANC) is wont to assert its cultural legacy and regard it as significant or even sacrosanct — although some elements of that legacy have been declared obsolete, and even threats to human life and national stability. The ANC’s “shoot the boer” song has been condemned by citizens and proscribed by a court.
A heated debate has ensued about the song’s culpability in contributing to the loss of life and stoking of racial confrontation . The ANC has naturally defended this song and is going to appeal to the highest court to retain it.
Songs are very important for the ANC. They are more than memories: they are buoys to keep it from sinking and threads to attempt to hold it together as it unravels.
In addition, songs take on an exaggerated significance with the ANC given its failed military struggle. Compared with other southern African “liberation movements” — Frelimo, MPLA, Swapo, Zanla — the MK was a flop, having never become a guerrilla or semi-conventional outfit that engaged in military actions. Hence songs, like propaganda, serve to maintain a myth to camouflage its combat deficiencies.
So with no stories of battles to convey to the Malema generation — but the blood of comrades on the collective conscience — songs compensate for failure. Remove the songs and there is largely a legacy of disabled “soldiers” who depended upon humanitarian aid — the disability grants. They mostly sang, of course — but were also frustrated, and some terrorised — in camps such as Quatro, where more cadres died than in battles with “boers”.
Myths are necessary to sustain the “liberation war”. Soon local versions of “war veterans” — the youth leadership has received crash courses and blessings in Zimbabwe — may emerge. Singing “war songs,” a veritable tradition, would justify the “tenderpreneurs” accessing the liberation loot .
Still the biggest practitioner and beneficiary of the legacy of “war songs” and military fantasy is President Jacob Zuma , who ululated to the Union Buildings wielding his imaginary machine, which kills.
Zuma’s election campaign was characterised by the dodging of substantive issues . Nonetheless, he had his war song and danced, thus showing that — using township language — a “jive” presidency was afoot. With his fantasy killing machine, magic song and wizard’s steps he made no bones about the fact that he would sing and dance around substantive matters after charming voters into making him president. Through songs — without ideological content — liberation, power, fame and fortune have been achieved.
So why would the ANC abandon these songs, these smart weapons, so rewarding in the absence of anything else, now?
While the ANC dilly-dallies in dealing with a vile and fire-spitting rabble rouser, it acts immediately and decisively on major issues.
It acted swiftly to dismiss a president and dissolve the Scorpions, and hastily “transforms” structures and society. Yet it evades crucial national matters, taking the country for a ride.
Incidentally its inability to curb “killing” songs echoes the unwillingness to tackle a killing virus — it stokes both.
The ANC upholds its legacies but rubbishes and tampers with the national heritage and people’s personal heritages.
History is distorted or denied; resources are looted and vandalised; social, moral, cultural legacies degenerate ; names of airports, streets and towns have changed — yet it preserves its own dated and loathsome songs.
The ANC knows the power of heritages — it has positioned itself as the benchmark. And then, as the Soviets did, it emasculates the identities and memories of others for the purpose of domination.
- Mabogoane is a freelance writer.