Ministry of Arts & Culture on Bok Van Blerks’s Supposed Afrikaans “Struggle Song,” De La Rey and Its Coded Message to Fermenting Revolutionary Sentiments.

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06 Feb 2007

We have noted with keen interest the controversy generated by Bok van Blerk’s song about Anglo-Boer War General Koos de la Rey which has become a talking point in certain cultural circles because of its supposed popularity among right-wing White Afrikaans-speakers.

In fact, the magazine, Huisgenoot has asked the Ministry of Arts & Culture to comment on the song and the coded message, if any, it is said to contain.

Sadly, the popular song is in danger of being hijacked by a minority of right-wingers who not only regard De la Rey as a war hero but want to mislead sections of Afrikaans-speaking society to think that this is a “struggle song” that sends out a “call to arms.”

As the Ministry of Arts & Culture, we want to state it categorically that the Minister Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan – together with countless other unsung heroes - spent his entire adult life and much of his adolescence and youth fighting for the right of freedom of expression.

Whatever the intentions of the composer, be they to mobilize White Afrikaans-speakers, or "the Boers" as the singer calls them, to oppose the democratic government, provided that opposition is within the terms of our Constitution, we as the Ministry see no problem.

However, there are two very important considerations which everyone must weigh. Firstly, during the time the song refers to, the White Afrikaans-speaking communities of the then Oranje Vry-Staat and Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek were at war with the British Empire. Unless the composer, performer and his audiences regard themselves as in a state of war with the rest of the population of South Africa, the song is merely a historical curiosity.

Secondly, today, in terms of our Constitution, every citizen of the country, irrespective of race, colour, creed, gender or home language has equal rights. As such even the most discontented White Afrikaans-speaker has the untrammeled right to organize a political party, to go into the hustings and persuade fellow citizens to his point of view, and contest elections. Provided he/she commands a sufficient number of votes, they will win seats in the national, provincial or local legislature and they have an equal opportunity with all fellow citizens to make their concerns known. We would have thought that the taking up of arms was superfluous in such circumstances.

Indeed, the ANC and other movement who felt obliged to take up arms in the past, decided to suspend armed action once it was clear that all South Africans would enjoy equal rights.

If there are White Afrikaans-speakers who feel they are besieged by crime, it will not help matters for such persons themselves to engage in criminal activity. Taking up arms against a democratically elected government, no matter how much one dislikes that government, is a crime, and a grave one at that.

The oft heard complaint that Afrikaans culture and the language are under threat is a nonsense, disproved by the very existence of journals like "Huisgenoot", "Rooi Rose", "Sarie Marais", and a host of others plus at least two daily newspapers. Are there equivalents of these in the largest language community, isiZulu? Are there equivalents of these in the smallest language community, shiVenda?

Afrikaans speakers, White, Coloured, African or Asian, have exactly the same rights as other South Africans. It would be a terrible shame if a handful of misguided individuals hope to use an innocent song as a rallying point for treason.

The law on the issue of treason is clear, as the accused in the current "Boeremag" Trial are discovering. Those who incite treason, whatever methods they employ, might well find themselves in difficulties with the law.

It is significant to note that Van Blerk himself has denied that his song has any contemporary relevance.

As the Ministry of Arts & Culture, we wish the singer, Van Blerk good luck with his song, and who knows, if it's really good, it might even become an international hit, like Solomon Linda's "Mbube"."

For further information, call Sandile Memela, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Arts & Culture at 082 800 3750 or Premi Appalraju, Media Liaison Officer at 082 375 2939