Apartheid-era song opens old wounds in South Africa

Ruling ANC vows to challenge 'unconstitutional' ban on anthem that encourages murder of Boers

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party has said it will work to overturn a ban on an anti-apartheid song which critics claim has incited the murder of white farmers. The song "Ayesaba Amagwala", which means "The Cowards Are Afraid" in Zulu, was prohibited late on Thursday under the country's race-hate speech laws.

The anthem, from the era of the struggle against white rule, includes the line "Kill the Boers". It was revived last month when Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the ANC's youth wing, led a chorus of students in Johannesburg. The rendition prompted a civil rights group to launch a lawsuit.

The ANC said it would go South Africa's highest court in an attempt to overturn the decision if necessary. "The ANC is approaching our courts, including the Constitutional Court ... to challenge the High Court's ruling," the party's spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, said. "The judge only considered the literal meaning of the words."

The ANC's furious response followed a cautious ruling at South Guateng High Court the previous day, in which Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann issued a provisional ban on performances of the song and referred the case to the equality court.

"The first respondent [Julius Malema] is also barred from uttering any song of a similar nature which incites violence," he said.

Judge Bertelsmann said politicians must consider democracy in South Africa to be "fragile" and that some things could cause strong offence to others. But the ANC secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, said: "These songs cannot be regarded as hate speech or unconstitutional. Any judgment that describes them as such is impractical and unimplementable."

AfriForum, a white-led human rights group which lodged the complaint against Mr Malema, has sought to link the performance to a spate of recent murders of white farmers in the country. "What we have here is an extreme form of hate speech. It should be prohibited according to South African law," the group's leader, Ernst Roets, told the BBC. "It is simply immoral to try to justify a song like this, to say that it must be seen in context."

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) defended the song as a part of the country's cultural heritage, saying: "The song ... is part of the historic fight of the people against apartheid, led by the ANC."

The row has once again put Mr Malema at the centre of a populist storm. The outspoken politician has been a near-constant presence in the headlines over the past two years, with some analysts suggesting that he has deliberately sought out wedge issues to strengthen his own base of support within the ANC. He was recently forced to vociferously deny allegations that he had been paying for his lavish lifestyle through profits from a series of public-sector contracts.

The accusations in South Africa's Sunday Times have subsequently led to pressure for "lifestyle audits" of the country's other free-spending political leaders, including President Jacob Zuma.

In many cases, Mr Malema, 29, has deliberately courted publicity by accusing opposition politicians and public-sector bosses of being racist. He has also spearheaded calls for the nationalisation of the country's economically vital mining sector – an effort that he says led to his being targeted by what he calls the "white liberal media".

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