Posted on August 3, 2023

‘Kill the Boer’ Song Fuels Backlash in South Africa and U.S.

John Eligon, New York Times, August 2, 2023

The political rally was winding down when the brash leader of a leftist South African party grabbed the microphone and began to stomp and chant. Thousands of supporters joined in, and when he reached the climax, they pointed their fingers in the air like guns.

“Kill the Boer!” Julius Malema chanted, referring to white farmers. The crowd in a stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday roared back in approval.

A video clip of that moment shot across the internet and was seized upon by some Americans on the far right, who said that it was a call to violence. That notion really took off when Elon Musk, the South African-born billionaire who left the country as a teenager, chimed in.

“They are openly pushing for genocide of white people in South Africa,” Mr. Musk, who is white, wrote on Monday on Twitter, the platform he now controls.

In recent years, people on the right in South Africa and the United States, including former President Donald J. Trump, have seized on attacks on white farmers to make the false claim that there have been mass killings.

Mr. Malema leads the Economic Freedom Fighters, a party that advocates taking white-owned land to give to Black South Africans. {snip}

Despite the words, the song should not be taken as a literal call to violence, according to Mr. Malema and veterans and historians of the anti-apartheid struggle. It has been around for decades, one of many battle cries of the anti-apartheid movement that remain a defining feature of the country’s political culture.


Bongani Ngqulunga, who teaches politics at the University of Johannesburg, recalled struggle songs from the apartheid days in which people proclaimed they were going to march to Pretoria, the capital city, or that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison the next morning. The people singing those songs were not actually planning to march to Pretoria, nor did they really think that Mr. Mandela was about to be released, he said.

Similarly, he said, the phrase “kill the Boer” — the word means farmer in Dutch and Afrikaans — is not meant to promote violence against individual farmers. “It was a call to mobilize against an oppressive system,” Mr. Ngqulunga said.

Nomalanga Mkhize, a historian at Nelson Mandela University, said of the chant: “Young people feel that it rouses them up when they sing it today. I don’t think that they intend it to mean any harm.”