Monica Laganparsad, Sunday Times (Johannesburg), April 19, 2009
[Editor’s Note: “Kweito” is a form of post-Apartheid black popular music. It has been called “the voice of the ghetto.” The first sentence of the song can be translated into English as follows: “Come here, kaffir, come here! Why didn’t you clean my car? Bugger!”]
One of South Africa’s major kwaito hits, Kaffir, released 14 years ago and recently replayed on 5FM, has cost the station a R10000 fine, imposed by the broadcast watchdog.
But the DJ at the centre of the fuss has blamed the outcry on “white guilt”.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) ruled this week that Arthur Mafokate’s controversial 1995 protest song has “no place” in a country where “political correctness and sensitivity need to be practised”.
The song, considered a classic, starts with the words: Kom hier, kaffer, kom hier! Hoekom het jy nie my kar skoongemaak nie. .. Bliksem! The reaction follows: Baas, don’t call me a kaffir . . .
The song goes on to say: I don’t come from the devil, don’t call me a kaffir, you won’t like it if I call you baboon.
Although it was an instant hit in post-apartheid South Africa–it sold more than 150000 copies and became a club sensation–it was banned by several radio stations.
Last November 5FM’s DJ Fresh outraged several listeners when he played the song on his drive time show’s daily segment known as Cheese of the Day. The week’s theme was kwaito.
The SABC, owners of 5FM, said in its appeal that there had been no malicious intent in playing the song. The hit, it claimed, is said to “have set a precedent for the post-apartheid generations’ struggle combining dance music with the new phenomenon of freedom of expression”.
The BCCSA ruled last year that the song amounted to “grossly offensive language” broadcast at a time when children were likely to be part of the audience.
One of the BCCSA tribunal members, Tembeka Mdlulwa, believed the song could offer an educational opportunity for parents. She was, however, outvoted and the appeal was dismissed on Thursday.
Yesterday Mafokate, known as the former king of kwaito, said the song was still relevant.
“I don’t think it was a fair judgment. I wouldn’t encourage radio stations not to play the song and if push comes to shove I will pay the R10000 on their (5FM’s) behalf.”
The singer said the song had been used to re-launch 5FM when its name was changed.
DJ Fresh said he stood by his decision and would meet Mafokate’s payment “halfway”.
“‘The only people who actually complained about it, funnily enough, were white people, which suggests to me that it was more white guilt than anything else.”
He said the song had been on the SABC’s playlist for 14 years, but had previously been played mainly on black stations. When he aired it, he said, many people had heard it for the first time and this may have caused the shock.
The BCCSA dismissed the appeal, saying negative stereotypes could lead to further divisions in society and evoke “deep-lying emotions reminiscent of apartheid”.
Chairman of the appeal tribunal Professor Kobus van Rooyen, said: “The word represents one of the elements of apartheid which degraded a whole nation of black people. The broadcast of the song flies in the face of the constitutional founding values of dignity and equality,” he said.
Complainant Russel Raubach said in a written statement to the BCCSA that the song was “inappropriate” and if a white DJ had played the song there would have been an outcry.
“It takes away the progress we have made in South Africa towards trying to eradicate racism and racist terminology, ” he wrote.
A second complainant, listed as C Coetzee, said “this type of rubbish” was demeaning to white South Africans.