The Performative Turn: Julius Malema’s Song, Dubul I’Bunu, as Hate Speech

it is now over three years since I wrote a report on Julius Malema’s song, Dubul I’Bunu (Kill the Boer), and proposed that it was a form of hate speech. It was written a year after a South African court found Malema guilty of inciting hate speech during the singing of his controversial song. It took another year before the African National Congress banned him entirely as a party member.

It appears that Malema was not initially banned for the singing of this song, but rather for his utterances against South Africa’s neighbour, Botswana. I was proud to have received a distinction for this paper and felt vindicated that there was agreement with what I had written.


“  We are fighting this war “ , Noel said, “ so that minorities will have a say in their destinies “

J M Coetzee, Life and Times of Michael K.

The new tune which was to be the theme-song of Hate Week ( the Hate Song, it was called ) had already been composed and was being endlessly plugged on the telescreens .  It had a savage, barking rhythm which could not exactly be called music, but resembled the beating of a drum. Roared out by hundreds of voices to the tramp of marching feet, it was terrifying. The proles had taken a fancy to it, and in the midnight streets it competed with the still-popular  “ It was a hopeless fancy “ .“

George Orwell, Nineteen-Eighty Four.


Today, it is not difficult to imagine which minority J M Coetzee alluded to in a dystopian narrative account of a country in the throes of a civil war. It also had its roots in the country’s racist past which was controlled by the same minority group. Frighteningly, it dared to imagine a future controlled by one (intellectually) and materialistically superior group of people over a larger uneducated and unedified majority. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin visualised a future where all citizens would be equal in the eyes of the state, but just before his death, may have lamented that the Soviet ideal was a recipe for disaster. In today’s societies, conjoined in one global village, the perceived democratic alternative, controlled by Keynesian market forces, seems doomed to fail.

Many movements, mostly non-governmental and anti-governmental, have sprouted to oppose the inequitable and unjust rule of a few over many. None more so than in South Africa where the African National Congress Youth League, capitalizing on the mass dissatisfaction of South African citizens against unemployment, homelessness and the lack of basic services, a constitutional and fundamental right to all citizens living in the country. As a consequence of Malema’s banning, it is replaced by his Economic Freedom Fighters which gained at least five percent of parliamentary seats after contesting South Africa’s 2014 general election against the ANC.

The tenet of Julius Malema’s campaign against these injustices has its roots in institutionalised segregation and colonialism and the song Dubul I’Bhunu, translated as Kill the Boer is an allusion to the discrimination by white Afrikaners of the many non-white ethnic groups in South Africa.

In this report I showed why the ANC Youth League’s struggle song, “Kill The Boer“ , popularised by Julius Malema, is a form of hate speech. In doing so, I gave explanations and interpretations of what hate speech is. Further, the historical, political and social consequences of such a song were outlined.


The performative turn is a paradigm shift in cultural studies, literary theory and performance studies. It is a shift from a textual to a performative model where in the conventional view a speaker expresses something. The performative view is given that a speaker brings something about or produces something.

Here, I mention that Julius Malema’s expressive interpretation of  “Kill the Boer“ is a clarion call against racial prejudice, material and social injustice. The allegation is made that the vast wealth of the country is still controlled by white South Africans. It does not suggest that material power and wealth is being ceded to former (black) comrades. it is also alleged that Malema forms part of this new economic clique. But the masses to which this song endears, chooses to remain ignorant of this suspicion and ignore it for now.

John Searle, states that a performative utterance changes a social situation. He developed a classification of illocutionary acts in which a specified role of intentionality is recorded in speech acts. He also explains the relationship of illocutionary acts as well as social and institutional facts. John Austin, on the other hand, explored the link between words and actions, and in his seminal text, How to do Things with Words, he states that the performative utterance names the act that is performed with its utterance.

Afriform, representing the rights and needs of mainly white (Afrikaner) farmers, laid the charge against Malema for using the song, “Kill the Boer”, arguing that hundreds of farmers were murdered as a consequence. Both Malema and the African National Congress countered that the song formed part of its legendary struggle history and that the clarion call was metaphorical. They argued that there was no correlation between the singing of this song and the killing of farmers. Applying Austin’s theory, I argued that their performance and responses to the criminal charges were infelicitous.

In terms of Austin’s definition of speech acts, Malema’s song is defined as a perlocutionary act where “utterances that have certain consequences for feelings, thoughts and actions of those to whom they are addressed or other persons”. Further, the perlocutionary act produces consequences with “some time delay.” it was also argued that it was too early to judge Malema on the singing of this song, however, Malema had no exclusive rights to the song which has been sung vociferously by his predecessors, particularly Peter Mokaba. It can be argued that since Mokaba popularised the song, many farmers have been murdered. Seen against the murder statistics and current manifestations of racism amongst both white and black South Africans, and Malema’s rise to political power as Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (which has at its heart a racial redress of material interests), I suggest that Malema’s final sentence at the time was lenient.

The murder of farmers may have been an unintentional act at the time, but Searle disagrees, stating that there is intention in perlocutionary acts. If there is intention in these acts, then it could also be argued that Malema’s utterances are contradictory in its claimed adherence to the Freedom Charter where it was originally declared that “all citizens shall be equal.”


Judith Butler has argued against the proposals of Austin and Searle. She has proposed that hate speech should be looked at in terms of perlocutionary effects. She also argues that the utterance of hate speech, even if unintentional, “constitutes the addressee in a socially subordinate position.” Toni Morrison declares that oppressive language does more than represent violence, it is violence.

Butler further claims that injurious speech degrades or demeans the addressee and may undermine the capacity to work, exercise rights and become an agent in the public domain. The large-scale closure of farms, although mostly for economic reasons, and mass emigration of white South Africans since the advent of democracy in 1994, can be noted in support of these claims.

Also, many black youths are distracted from the proper course of persistently seeking to complete their tertiary education competently in order to have a more than equitable opportunity of obtaining employment in their chosen fields. Here, legislation is already in force in terms of the Employment Equity Act (now formalised into the BBBEE: Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act).

Butler further states that the subject who cites, in this case, Julius Malema, is produced as an effect of the citation. The citation produces the subject as a belated and fictive speaker and agent of the performative utterance, in this case, to “ kill the boer “. She concedes that it is difficult to hold the individual and the speech act responsible, but argues that it should be possible to hold people responsible for words and acts, whatever their intentions.


The ANC argued that the song Dubul I’Bhunu had long been part of the struggle’s repertoire of freedom songs.  It had only become more evident in the last twenty years, ironically at the advent of democracy in South Africa where democratic (not economic) freedom had been achieved. Such words, with similar effects and intentions, were first chanted by the Pan Africanist Congress during the early nineteen-nineties along with the infamous slogan of “one settler, one bullet”.  Shortly thereafter, the late ANC youth leader Peter Mokaba, vigorously supported by Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, borrowed the slogan and began chanting his “kill the Boer, kill the farmer” version in 1993 after the murder of ANC and Communist Party leader, Chris Hani.


Julius Malema has been described by current South African president, Jacob Zuma, as “the future leader“ of South Africa. Under siege and delusionally believing he has a firm grip on the country by way of his party’s (over) sixty percent majority in parliament, such words may yet haunt him. Malema is less favourably described as a reckless populist with the potential to destabilise South Africa and spark racial conflict.

In 1995 Malema was elected chairman of the ANC Youth League branch in Seshego where he was born and brought up. Later, in 1997 he was elected as chairman of the Congress of South African Students in Limpopo Province and then chairman of the national body of the same organisation in 2001. In 2002 he led a COSAS march by school pupils through the streets of Johannesburg. This march was characterised by incidents of violence and looting. His first election as ANC Youth League leader was also characterised by unruly behaviour amongst supporters and detractors.

During 2013, as leader of his new EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) he led a protest march on his university’s main campus, disrupting lectures and university business. He was keenly supported by university staff. He and his party now sit in parliament which has recently become the scene of ugliness and degradation where he and his party refuse to withdraw “unparliamentary statements” made mainly against Zuma. They have been sanctioned by the ANC majority.

Some media analysts have depicted him as an orator with broad appeal in the young, poor and disadvantaged black electorate. Critics have described him as a demagogue. When Afriform brought the case of hate speech against him the aggressive and patronizing questioning of black witnesses by lawyers for the Afrikaner movement allowed Malema to portray himself as a victim of Afrikaner persecution.

In 2010 on a visit to neighbouring Zimbabwe, Malema branded that country’s opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as an ally of  “imperialists“, emulating Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, in engaging in anti-colonial rhetoric.

Malema has blamed Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change for the political violence in Zimbabwe and has defended Mugabe’s political and human rights record.  He has praised Mugabe’s land seizures and it is ironic to note that he encouraged South Africa’s youth to follow the example of Zimbabwe’s youth, because it is mostly Mugabe’s so-called war veterans who are responsible for the land invasions. Many ‘war veterans’ were either not born, or still infants at the time of Zimbabwe’s civil war.

Today, the nationalisation of South African land, mines and private enterprises is Malema’s objective and forms part of the EFF’s political manifesto. It is motivated along racial lines. Both the ruling ANC and parliament’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, remain opposed to such nationalisation of all of the country’s resources.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, all foreign business owners are required by Zimbabwean law to hand over control of their businesses to “local, indigenous” Zimbabweans.


In terms of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of South Africa all citizens have the right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion as well as freedom of expression, assembly, demonstration, picket and petition. Significantly, it is stated quite clearly that freedom of expression “does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence, or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.”

In adherence to the Constitution and in the aftermath of the murder of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader, Eugene Terre’blanche, the ANC discarded the singing of Dubul I’Bhunu as a struggle slogan.

The Human Rights Commission had as far back as the early nineteen-nineties decried the singing of the song when it was uttered by Peter Mokaba. Julius Malema, however, has resiliently persisted with the singing of the song as recently as his 2014 election campaign.

And while Malema rebrands himself under the banner of his EFF, ANC cadres incite their supporters by issuing derogatory comments against the white minority, while voicing their dissatisfaction with the opposition (DA) party’s metamorphosis from a liberal whites only party into a non-racial, democratic movement, representative of all South Africans. Such hateful platitudes have become the standard in South Africa’s parliament where, earlier, Lindiwe Sisulu, then minister of Public Enterprises (now Minister of Human Settlements) made reference to a DA MP’s “flea-infested” body. No disciplinary action was taken against her by the speaker, Max Sisulu, .


In response to the singing of  Dubul I’Bhunu, numerous complaints were made against Julius Malema, both to the South African Police Services and the South African Human Rights Commission. The South Gauteng High Court ruled on 26 March 2010 that the song was unconstitutional and unlawful and that any person singing it could face charges of incitement to murder. On 1 April 2010 the Northern Gauteng High Court granted an interdict preventing Malema from publicly uttering the words of this song or any other song which could be considered to be instigating violence and/or hatred between black and white citizens.

More than a year later, Malema was found guilty of hate speech. In his judgement, Judge Colin Lamont declared that “the words uttered by Malema constitute hate speech“. He added that although such songs had its place during the apartheid era, they were now  “inappropriate in a society now struggling to redefine race relations.“ The Guardian warned that even while guilty of hate speech, Malema cannot be ignored. They believed that the vehemence and volume of his rhetoric could over time, be influential.



It is argued that hate speech can and often does bring about the persecution of one group of people by another, sometimes leading to genocide.

The most significant accounts of genocide, amongst others, during the twentieth century have been Nazi Germany’s execution of six million Jews and the Rwandese Hutu’s brutal butcher of the Tutsi’s. We can include the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 (in which black protesters were shot dead by mainly white South African police officers) and the Marikana massacre of 2012 (in which protesting mineworkers were shot dead by SAPS officers) in this category of genocidal violence.

Today, there are numerous incidents of similar atrocities being committed by the SAPS (a force which is demographically multi-racial) against civilians protesting for better service delivery and living conditions, as well as better wages in the case where they are employed. Startlingly, the victims are not ‘white’. They are black, African and Coloured. They are now ironically supporters of Malema and members of his political movement, both inside and outside of South Africa’s parliamentary chambers.

The president of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton, names eight stages of genocide, namely; classification, symbolisation, dehumanization, organization, polarisation, preparation, extermination and denial.

In this case it can be argued that Malema’s hate speech rhetoric has already reached the classification, sybolisation, dehumanisation, organisation and polarisation stages. White Afrikaners have been singled out and Malema has spent a considerable amount of time rallying  the disenchanted black youth during his tenure as ANC Youth League President. Prior to his banning the ruling ANC kept his movements unchecked and allowed him to flourish in gaining popularity and winning over supporters .

Genocide Watch has placed South Africa at stage five (polarization) because the country’s racial divisions continue, there was a high level of youth unemployment amongst the black population and a very high crime rate. They now believe that they have evidence of incitement to violence against white people in the rise to power of Julius Malema and his singing of   “Kill the Boer“. They have declared that they will keep South Africa at stage 6 (preparation) until Julius Malema is removed from power. While South Africa has not yet reached the stage of actual genocide, the preparations for it are ominous.

Malema has been removed from power by the ANC. But, as Commander in Chief of the EFF, his power base and political influence is growing. Against the backdrop of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla scandal, (some) white South Africans have ludicrously begun to sing Malema’s praises across social  media networks.

Xenophobic riots and murders of foreign refugees as well as continuing hate crimes against Boer farmers and other whites have caused dark storm clouds to form over the rainbow nation“.

  • Genocide Watch


On November 9, 1938, the Nazis staged vicious pogroms, state sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots against the Jews in  Germany.

These came to be known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a reference to the untold numbers of broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed during the pogroms. Encouraged by the Nazi regime, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They  damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside. Kristallnacht was a turning point in history. The pogroms marked an intensification of Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust—the systematic, state-sponsored murder of Jews.

Recently, the Congress of South African Students, took it upon themselves to deposit pig’s heads amongst the kosher stores of meat products at a major retailer’s Sea Point (Cape Town) branch in protest against the Israeli government’s persecution of Palestinians in the Middle East. This inept and reckless act also violated the halaal meat products of Muslim customers.


While South Africa celebrated its transformation to a democratic nation in 1994, Rwanda descended into an orgy of genocide performed over a period of just one hundred days. The Rwandan genocide has historical significance and is rooted in its colonial past. When Belgium colonised Rwanda in 1916 , identity cards classifying people according to their ethnicity were issued.

The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and leader of the Rwandese Patriotic Front, was initially blamed for encouraging the genocide after a peace accord between the rival ethnic groups did little to stop ethnic violence and the Hutu president Habyarimana was assassinated.

The presidential guard initiated a campaign of retribution where up to thirty thousand Hutus lead by military officials, politicians and businessmen carried out  “a  wave of slaughter“. Hutu radio broadcasters branded the Tutsi’s as cockroaches (as in fleas, rats).


According to Judith Butler responsibility must be taken for speech acts made to further a cause, whether it be for freedom from oppression, or vociferous opposition to a minority culture or viewpoint not shared by the speaker and his addressees. Critically, she argues against regulating speech, particularly if it subordinates, marginalizes, or harms members of an oppressed group. Controversially, she advises against enacting restrictions on hate speech because such restrictions may silence those who would otherwise challenge this speech by “resignifying“ and “restaging it“.

Where South Africa is concerned, Butler need not worry as freedom of speech/expression is enshrined in the Constitution, however, she will be mindful of the fact that the Constitution also protects those against which harmful speech acts are made.

Unless the majority of South Africans support his utterances, past and present, South Africans need to be reminded of the guilty verdict against Julius Malema’s proclamations to Dubul I’Bhunu, (Kill the Boer). But, the dye has tragically been cast. While media bias highlights continued incidents of racism by white South Africans, both Malema, his Economic Freedom Fighters as well as ANC politicians continue to use derogatory language against the white minorities of South Africa. They are not alone. Social media networks are hamstrung by racist slanging matches by both black and white South Africans.

South Africans and indeed citizens across the world need to be reminded of the words of the late Nelson Mandela;

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

…Watch this space.


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