Time to compose new songs for a new democracy

WHEN a group of black South Africans sing, listen very carefully.

Depending on who you are and what mood they are in, they chant in order to praise, honour or express disgust.

They sing to express support for a leader or their displeasure. They use the chant to insult and threaten. Workers voice their grievances or gratitude by singing.

A typical example, Hamba Kahle Mkhonto ... , was sung at the funerals of Umkhonto weSizwe guerillas who had fallen in the cause of fighting for freedom.

Loosely translated it means, "Farewell Mkhonto weSizwe cadre ... we, your surviving comrades, will take up your spear and kill the Boers until we have gained victory against apartheid".

The word "Boers" referred to Afrikaners, who were in power, and not to every white person.

The song implied that if they killed our freedom fighters, we would avenge their deaths. It was war talk in a war situation and therefore quite justified.

After 1994 this song began to cause much discomfort because some of our best cadres in the ANC have been Afrikaners, such as Bram Fischer and Beyers Naudé, to name but two.

Many of them paid a very heavy price. They were condemned as verraaiers, kafferboeties and so on.

Not so long ago I attended a burial at which Hamba Kahle Mkhonto was sung. Its revised version was unclear and confusing. From time to time the chaplain would forget the words "now we shall live side by side with the Boers ..." and would instead sing "we shall kill them". There were smiles all round but I sensed a deep sense of discomfort and embarrassment.

Hasn't the time arrived to compose new songs that articulate the post-1994 democratic era? Perhaps new themes should now characterise our revolutionary songs, that is transformation, development, reconstruction, reconciliation, the African Renaissance, nonracialism and National Democratic Revolution.

That said, we should also avoid erasing the history of our struggle. What one is suggesting is a balance between the anti-apartheid struggles and the opportunities and challenges in a democratic South Africa.

At some of the funerals I couldn't help notice the body language of the comrades Van der Merwe, Nel and Du Toit.

I prayed that they did not understand the confusion the song was causing. For most of us the bottom line was that we had moved away from the anti-apartheid struggle mode to a new struggle: development, reconstruction and transformation.

Our people are richly endowed with that very rare gift of composing powerful songs at the drop of a hat. All they need is to have a clear message in their minds.

It is no longer about burning tyres to obstruct traffic nor is it about boycotts and defiance.

On the contrary, it has everything to do with nation building, reconciliation, development and reconstruction. But not to forget, it is also about defending the revolution and its gains.

l The writer is president of the United Cities of Local Governments of Africa. The views expressed here are his own.