Zuma’s Song

Jacob Zuma, currently the President of the African National Congress, has a trademark song that he and his enthusiastic supporters sing and perform with much foot-stomping and toyi-toying at all public appearances and rallies (including at JZ’s various court appearances on rape charges and corruption charges).

Called “Umshini wam” (or more fully “Awuleth’ Umshini Wami” in Zulu, which translates to “Bring me my machine gun”), it consists almost exclusively of the phrase, repeated many times over, “Bring me my machine gun, please bring me my machine gun”. It used to be sung during the decades of apartheid by Umkhonto we Sizwe (or MK), the military branch of the ANC, but has in more recent become THE song of Jacob Zuma, fondly known as “JZ” (who used to be the President of MK).

I confess that I find this rather alarming.

I mean, what does ANC Prez Zuma intend to do with the machine gun, if he gets it? Guns in general are meant to shoot people. Machine guns, more particularly, are meant to shoot a lot of people in a short time. Should we be worried?

But perhaps it is merely a precursor to urging us to cast all our guns upon a huge bonfire so that they can be molten down to be refashioned into assorted farming implements, which is what I think we really need to solve our worldwide food crisis.

However, I rather doubt that this is his agenda. But I do find it hard to stop chuckling when I read this plaintive wail, “Umshini isn’t a song to kill, says Zuma”.

Apparently, the mobs who have been carrying out xenophobic attacks against foreigners in May and June were heard loudly and lustily chanting “Awuleth’ umshini wami”. The reason why this appears to have ticked him off is because it creates the impression that the ANC supports xenophobic violence.

To quote:

“Umshini wami belongs to the ANC. Who are these people abusing this song while they are doing wrong things? They are abusing the names of ANC leaders in the process,” said Zuma.

Oh dear.

Well, no, we certainly can’t have that…

After years of actively encouraging his supporters to chant this indubitably militaristic and antagonistic song, and thus rather un-subtly fostering a culture of violence in a country that has been ravaged by appalling levels of violence for over 60 years, he stamps his foot and complains that “these people” mustn’t get violent?

Perhaps he hasn’t quite grasped the meaning of ’cause’ and ‘effect’.

After all, he does seem to inspire passionate devotion, bordering on martyrism, among his followers. This was made clear by ANC Youth League (ANCYL) President Julius Malema who declared at a Youth Day rally in Thaba Nchu in the Free State on Monday 16 June 2008 (Youth Day), “We will kill for Zuma”:

“We are prepared to die for Zuma,” Malema told a Free State rally. “We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma,” Malema added at the end of his speech, while the crowd clapped hands and laughed.

Malema declared that the President of the ANC would be the next president of South Africa, and that anyone who disagrees with this, should leave. Whether that means to leave the ANC, the political arena, or the country, isn’t clear. I’m not sure where democracy comes into it… I guess it doesn’t.

He maintains that the Scorpions’ case against Zuma (charges of corruption) should be thrown out of court. In follow-up interviews he said that he would respect the court’s decision, but then contradicted himself by saying that the only decision he would accept is if the charges are dropped. What happened to the independence of the judiciary?

The very next day, in response to a public outcry, Malema defended himself, claiming “I did not say that”. I just have to quote from this article, because it reminds me perfectly of that expression “give a man enough rope, and he will hang himself” (I’ll just highlight the juicy bits and discuss them below):

ANC Youth League president Julius Malema on Tuesday denied that his statement about taking up arms and killing for Jacob Zuma was an incitement to violence.

In an interview with the SABC, Malema said: “And we never said the youth must take up arms and kill. We said if the need arises.

“That need is not here. That need will not arise anytime soon.

“But we are issuing a warning, an alert to those who think we are asleep, that we are watching them and that they should never test our patience.”

He was asked if, in light of the recent xenophobic violence, it could not be interpreted by the masses as a call to violence.

He replied: “No, no they won’t do that, the South Africans are not that ignorant.

South Africans are highly conscious politically. They respect the law and they respect the institutions of our government.

“The same with the ANC Youth League. They won’t do that.

“There are people who just try and distort and sensationalise the whole issue on the killing.”

Malema said his statement was merely a “demonstration of our commitment to the defence of the revolution.

“But we spoke against any attack, any form of violence… We are opposed to that.”

Use of the word “kill” was meant to demonstrate “our love and passion” for the ANC president.

Malema told a Youth Day rally in Thaba Nchu in the Free State on Monday: “We are prepared to die for Zuma. We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.”

Explaining his choice of words he told the SABC: “In defence of this revolution we are prepared to pay the highest price.

“Maybe the mistake I made was to call things by their rightful name.

I should have used an English word that says ‘the highest price’. Perhaps it was not going to be an issue.

“We are saying there is a consistent political attack on our leadership and that seeks to undermine the black majority… and that is done by people who are opposed to change in South Africa.”

Malema said the league would use “every trick in the book” to ensure that Zuma got his freedom back.

“That is why we are even approaching the court. We have confidence in the judiciary system of the country.”

  1. OK, so “if the need arises”, the ANCYL will take up arms. Who will determine whether this need has arisen? What criteria will be used? Can the country really afford to have national organisations making clear threats, such as “we are issuing a warning”?
  2. “South Africans are not that ignorant. …” OK, ignorance may not necessarily be attributed to a lack of education. But consider the sad state of our education system, the intimidating teacher-to-student ratios, the frequently changing curriculum which leaves schools, students and teachers scrambling for books and teaching materials etc., the discipline and drug problems in schools around the country, the legacy of thousands of now young adults who refused to attend schools during apartheid and thus never obtained a formal education, the rates of illiteracy and innumeracy, the alarming findings that many high school children and even students at university are unable to write a coherent essay that isn’t littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes never mind being well-argued….
  3. “South Africans respect the law and the institutions of government.” Quite frankly, if South Africans had more respect for the law, there would be less crime, as well as less people jumping traffic lights, weaving suicidally in traffic and ignoring pedestrian crossings. Our prisons are overflowing, and the courts are overloaded. As far as institutions of government are concerned, anyone who has lived and worked in South Africa and had to take days off work to deal with the Departments of Home Affairs, Transport, Education, Health, etc…, will come to suspect that all is not well. The newspapers are filled with stories of corruption, bureaucratic bungling, lack of accountability, incompetence, lack of wisdom in planning, inability to budget, and sheer stupidity. The dramatic exception is the Department of Finance and the South African Revenue Services. So at least all that incompetence is being properly funded.
  4. “A demonstration of the defence of the revolution” – ? What revolution is the man talking about? The end of apartheid did not come about through a revolution but through democratic means. Our country has not, thank God, gone through a revolution. Yet. My fervent prayers that we won’t in the future.
  5. “Use of the word “kill” was meant to demonstrate “our love and passion” for the ANC president.” Personally, I don’t think the directly opposed words of ‘kill’ and ‘love and passion’ should be combined in the same sentence, never mind in the same human being. “Kill” is not a good thing. Never was, never will be. If you feel compelled to demonstrate your love and passion for someone by killing someone who doesn’t agree with you, I think you at best need psychological counselling or at worst should be in prison.
  6. “In defence of this revolution we are prepared to pay the highest price. Maybe the mistake I made was to call things by their rightful name. I should have used an English word that says ‘the highest price’.”  Yes, maybe he should have gone to school and learned what words mean in English. But even if it’s not your first language, the word “kill” (I would think) is quite unambiguous. “Paying the highest price” is an interesting turn of phrase, because it is directly opposed to “killing”. “Being prepared to pay the highest price” means willing to DIE oneself in order to ensure that someone else lives. Chuckle… Alas, I doubt that’s what he meant. I think what he really meant to say was that everyone else (not “we, the ANCYL”) should be “prepared to pay the highest price”, i.e. to die, to be killed… but it came out the wrong way around, i.e. “we are willing to die for Zuma”… English sure is a funny language.
  7. “We are saying there is a consistent political attack on our leadership and that seeks to undermine the black majority… and that is done by people who are opposed to change in South Africa.” Oh for crying in a bucket…
  8. “The league would use “every trick in the book” to ensure that Zuma got his freedom back.” I wonder whether that would include ‘dirty tricks’? Like I said, English sure is a funny language.

Well, after that little debacle with Comrade Malema, I was astounded to see this headline on 21 June 2008: “We’re prepared to kill for Zuma: Vavi”. You know that saying “Open mouth, insert both feet?”

It appears that COSATU Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi was speaking at the funeral of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union’s vice president and ANC veteran Pretty Shuping, when he uttered these immortal words:

“So yes, because [ANC president] Jacob Zuma is one of us, and he is one of our leaders, for him, we are prepared to lay our lives (sic) and to shoot and kill,” he said to applause and cheering.

“And in defence of one another, because we love one another so dearly and so truly, we are prepared to kill and to lay our own lives (sic) for one another,” he added.

I don’t know. What exactly does this mean? Are we supposed to take him literally? Wouldn’t it in the end amount to the death of democracy in our country if supporters of one presidential candidate are willing to kill to ensure that he comes to power? Should those of us who aren’t inspired to such fervent expressions of overwhelming loyalty towards Comrade JZ pack our bags and leave?

Fortunately, the Human Rights Commission had no qualms about speaking out and explicitly warning Vavi on 23 June 2008.

“The HRC’s chief executive, Tseliso Thipanyane, said the penalty Vavi faced could be more stringent than the action against Malema.” …

“At the minimum, the commission will have to request a retraction and apology, but we will debate whether this course of action is appropriate for a more mature and experienced leader, such as Vavi,” said Thipanyane.

“In fact, his comments are much worse, because they come after Malema’s. It is clear that Mr Vavi made his statements fully aware of the consequences and context of these comments.”

So far, no apologies and no retractions have come from either leader. (Not that it was realistic to expect these, but it might have been quite a nice turn-around.)

And what was ANC President Zuma’s response? In this article on 25 June 2008, under the heading “Zuma refers questions to Vavi”, he whines that it is ‘unfair’ to ask him to respond:

ANC President Jacob Zuma says it is “unfair” to expect him to respond to the widely condemned remark by Cosatu General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi that he would “kill” for Zuma.

Zuma has referred all questions to the union boss instead.

At a press conference after a meeting with the Muslim Judicial Council in Athlone on Tuesday night, he was asked to comment on Vavi’s pledge, to which he replied: “Have you talked to Vavi? It was Vavi who said that.

“Why should I explain what Vavi said? What do I need to explain? I think that is unfair.”

What I find most unsettling about this is that the future President of our country (because his supporters have made it clear that they will allow no other to be elected) has not displayed the wisdom and foresight that we really, desperately need in a new leader. Instead of allowing his merry men to threaten our democratic rights with machine guns and violence, he should have gone on national television and radio and said something like the following:

“Right, men (and women), this is not acceptable. I know you guys adore me and want me to become the next president of South Africa, but all this violence and crime and anger has to come to an end. We are a democracy. That means that we have to allow democratic, free and fair elections to take place in our country – at the very least so that we don’t descend into the dreadful mess which Zimbabwe is in right now.

So let’s sit down quietly and peacefully and talk with each other. Let’s make sure that our children are safe when they are at home, or playing in the street, or at school. Let’s look after our grandparents and those who are elderly, weak and helpless. Let’s go and make friends with our neighbours. Let’s not get angry or violent when someone disagrees with our point of view. Let’s listen to each other, really, properly listen.

Too many innocent people have died already. So put away your machine guns and your weapons. Reach out to the person next to you, shake their hand, introduce yourselves to each other. You may well discover that you aren’t all that different from each other. We all need warmth, shelter, food, clothing, family, friends… .”

Personally, I would have preferred a political leader (particularly one who may well become the future president of our country …. sigh) to have a less militant and less blatantly threatening song. Perhaps something with the words “Forgiveness will heal all wounds, and Love will heal all hearts”. Or something like that.

But I guess that kind of morality and wisdom left the political arena together with our beloved and much revered Madiba.

4 thoughts on “Zuma’s Song

  1. Ohhhhh… this is all too tragic for words. Most of it had passed me by – I’d just seen a glancing reference to Malema’s “Sure, we said kill, but we didn’t really *mean* it.” This is so much worse. And, really? “South Africans are highly conscious politically”? Apparently three highly prominent leaders aren’t actually politically conscious enough to pay much attention to what their words imply… or maybe they know full well, and really do mean it, but throw in a few “just kidding” disclaimers to confuse the media?

    I’m really not one to whine, normally, about how SA is “just going down the Zimbabwe route” and “I’m glad I’m out of it”. That’s not really how I feel. But stories like this send chills right through me. And yes, if I did have plans to return any time soon, this would probably change my mind.

  2. I know what you mean. Trying to stay positive about the future of our country is really quite daunting at times. I make a point of visiting the SA Good News website every day, no longer listen to the news early morning or late at night (in that half-awake, half-asleep state the mind is just so open) and try to read the newspapers as little as possible. I don’t know whether that is simply an ostrich-manoeuvre.

    Fortunately, when you meet people one-on-one most of them are actually really nice, and everyone is worried about the levels of crime and corruption, and everyone just wants peace and a good life. And there are so many organisations doing really good work in the community with very limited resources.

    It’s so unfortunate that we have so many powerful community leaders and political leaders who just do not have the real leadership qualities or the spiritual wisdom and farsightedness that we so desperately need to lead us out of the mess.

    We need a leader who touches our hearts and gives wings to our imagination, who helps us to realise our greatest potentials for good.

    I soooo wish we had another Madiba waiting in the wings.

  3. Um, wow. I’ve heard about some of this on BBC News (seeing as how American network news doesn’t bother to report much of anything outside of the U.S.), but your post was really eye-opening. I’m with you: “Bring me my machine gun” and “kill” seem pretty straightforward to me, but what do *I* know?? I will send good vibes your way and hope for the best.

    On a lighter note, I’ve FINALLY posted some of our Ireland pictures on my blog: http://tallulahhouse.blogspot.com/2008/06/woman-posts-ireland-pics-readers-faint.html and wanted to let you know 🙂


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