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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Music as a Unifying and Dividing Force in South Africa


This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at scarrdc.org for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on August 8, 2014. 



Apartheid has been gone for more than 20 years, but tensions still smolder in South Africa, and this can be seen in South African music. This is evident in the case of, Louis Andreas Pepler, an Afrikaner folk-rock musician who goes by Bok van Blerk. Van Blerk rose to fame in 2006 when he produced his own rendition of “De La Rey,” a patriotic Afrikaner song that praises the resilience and bravery of the Afrikaners, then known as Boers, under command of General Koos De La Rey in their resistance against the British in the Second Boer War.



De La Rey, De La Rey

sal jy die Boere kom lei? (will you come to lead the Boers?)
Generaal, Generaal, (General, General)
soos een man, sal ons om jou val, Generaal De La Rey 
(united we'll fall around you, General De La Rey)
Van Blerk is known for his patriotic songs such as “Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika” (For thee, South Africa), and “Afrikanerhart,” and enjoys considerable popularity in his home country, especially among Afrikaners.
Van Blerk’s music, however, has become controversial, because of far-right Afrikaner groups in South Africa. Van Blerk’s music, particularly his song “De La Rey,” has been used by far-right groups like the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) as a call for Afrikaners to rise up against the “black majority government” and return to the “good old days” under apartheid. Sometimes, far-right groups sing it before or after “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”, the old national anthem.

It’s important to remember that neither “De La Rey” nor “Die Stem” convey racism on their own. “Die Stem” is a hymn to South Africa that paints a picture of the country’s natural beauty and proclaims that the people will not falter when South Africa calls them to their duty. Both songs, unfortunately, are damned by context. Van Blerk does not encourage or condone the racist behavior, claiming “De La Rey” is only a song of pride in one’s people, rather than a call for revolution or a restoration of apartheid. He has stated he does not want to be associated with the old flag or other symbols of apartheid South Africa.

Of course, music can also unite people, and it most clearly does through the present South African national anthem. During his term in office, former President Nelson Mandela used music to unite his country by creating a new national anthem for his people. He merged the apartheid-era anthem Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (The Call of South Africa) with Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (God bless Africa), a song popular with anti-apartheid activists to create a rousing pentalingual hymn that is a prayer, a national showcase, and a call for unity all at once.

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