Our songs are art, says ANC

2012-08-12 10:00
Charl du Plessis
Ruling party argues only ‘a minority’ does not understand Shoot the Boer’s ‘historical context’

The ANC has come out strongly in support of free speech and artistic expression – when it comes to its own liberation songs.

The governing party has filed papers in the Supreme Court of Appeal calling AfriForum’s jitters over the struggle song Dubul’iBhunu (Shoot the Boer) no more than a “misconception caused by translations of an otherwise harmless art form”.

The ANC argues that “liberation songs are a form of art (and are) thus provided protection by the Constitution and the Equality Act”.

This comes just two months after Brett Murray’s controversial depiction of President Jacob ­Zuma in The Spear painting had some in the country up in arms about limits on the freedom of artistic expression.

The party argued that Murray’s freedom of artistic expression in depicting Zuma with his genitals exposed could not trump Zuma’s right to human dignity, described by the ANC as an “upper right”.

When the Supreme Court of Appeal hears the Shoot the Boer case later this year, expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema will get a brief taste of what it’s like to be back in the fold, as both Malema and the ANC are jointly represented in the matter.

They are attempting to overturn Judge Colin Lamont’s ruling in the Equality Court last year, which declared the song hate speech.

Lamont interdicted both Malema and the ANC from “singing the song . . . at any public or private meeting held by or conducted by them”.

Referring to Lamont’s judgment in its court papers, the ANC said it “should have been accepted as incontrovertible evidence that the utterances are not to be taken literally but are part of a song emerging from a particular historical context, and contains the metaphor common in all art forms”.

The party argues that AfriForum’s interpretation of the phrase does not represent that of a reasonable person listening to the song, rather, “a tiny hypersensitive sectarian minority whose sensibilities cannot be used to determine ‘what words mean’”.

Central to the case is the question of who gets to define what is offensive and whether Malema’s singing of the song was intended to cause harm.

AfriForum cites case law which states that it’s all about the subjective feelings of those who feel their dignity is infringed by the singing of the song.

In its court papers AfriForum argued it was “absurd” for the ANC to argue that “all reasonable South Africans are so knowledgeable about the liberation struggle that they must understand the secondary meaning of struggle songs even when sung in the context of the multicultural democracy after 1994”.

The case is likely to spark further debate over South Africa’s understanding of the limitations on freedom of artistic expression.

In May, the ANC went to court to compel the Goodman Gallery to remove The Spear.

The gallery’s director, Liza Essers, filed an opposing affidavit in which she said Murray’s depiction of Zuma in a Lenin pose with his genitalia exposed was a “symbolic, fictional representation”.

The ANC’s appeal has not yet been placed on the court roll, but is likely to be heard later this year.