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In S. Africa, song controversy reveals depth of racial rift today

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Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

(Read caption) Supporters of African National Congress (ANC) Youth League president Julius Malema chant slogans outside a Johannesburg court during Malema's appearance for a hate speech trial, on April 12. Malema is charged for singing 'Shoot the Boer,' a provocative song of the South African freedom movement.

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Can a song cause a killing? An Afrikaans rights group thinks so, and it is suing a prominent South African politician for singing it during political rallies.

A trial began this week into AfriForum's racial hatred lawsuit against Julius Malema, the outspoken leader of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), because of his penchant for singing “Shoot the Boer,” a provocative song of the South African freedom movement. "Boer" means "farmer" in the Afrikaans language.

AfriForum draws a direct connection between the song and the growing number of murders of white farmers in rural areas across South Africa.

The song “creates a problem with the respect between the majority and minority,” Dannie Goosen, chairman of the Afrikaner group Federasie Vir Afrikaanse Kutuurvereeniging, told the Equality Court in Johannesburg on Thursday. She added that Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch settlers, see the song “as a threat to their symbolic connection to South Africa.”

The song is revealing the incredible gap that still exists largely along racial lines in this this society.

On one side is South Africa’s white and once dominant Afrikaner minority, which views the song as an incitement to racial violence. On the other side is much of the black majority (and the ruling African National Congress party), which argues that such freedom-struggle songs are a necessary part of South Africa’s history, and should not be banned.

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