I've always been a little on the edge regarding this whole hate-speech thing. I'm speaking specifically about Julius Malema's rally songs in which he sang “kill the boer” / “dubhula ibhunu”. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable, but I am a supporter of freedom of speech and expression. Drawing the line between what is allowed and what is not, is a very delicate matter. I have to agree with Chris Chameleon who recently tweeted (@chrischameleon) that he has always been more offended by the “kill” in the slogan, than by the derogatory term for “boer.” Being called names, even derogatory names, is just an oppinion. But this is not what the slogan “kill the boer” is all about. The slogan, if taken as it is, is a call to action—a call to murder. So as I understand it, that is what Judge Collin Lamont basically said in his recent High Court ruling: Julius Malema's singing “kill the boer” amounts to hate-speech.
A few months ago I posted a song by Miriam Makaba, “Kwawuleza”. It is a song in which a child warns his mother that the police are coming. During the apartheid regime a slang word for a policeman developed: “boer”. The word for white farmer became synonymous with white policeman. So the phrase “kill the boer” could be interpreted to mean “kill the policeman”; the basic suggestion is to overthrow those in power. With Malema's rhetoric that white people are still, even now, yet in power, it continues to be a troubling thing to say.
But back to Makaba's song “Kwawuleza”. The hypersensitive and ridiculously politically correct may claim this song to be inappropriate. What about that beautiful poem by Ingrid Jonker, speaking of a “kafferboom”? When will I be indicted for inappropriate speech—possibly hate-speech—for using a word like “kaffer” in a poem? I haven't yet used this word in a poem, but since it is such an emotionally charged word it is obviously a word any poet would take note of. Is Jonker's poem on some blacklist as something that is potentially inappropriate?
Yes, words and their associations are terrible, and insults like “kaffer” and “nigger” and “white pig” and “coolie” and “chink” and the list goes on, are definitely inappropriate. However, how we respond to these insults are equally important. Take for instance that African-American man that assaulted an elderly Korean man because he thought the Korean called him “nigger”, when in fact he said something completely different. (I posted about it here.) Who is the most serious offender here—the person that possibly said the N-word, or the person that physically assaulted someone.
There's a saying that “words can kill” and the Bible says that in the tongue resides the power of life and death. Yes words matter. But so does freedom of expression. When you force people to keep silent you are not necessarily doing a good thing. What we are allowed to say or not to say is the topic of many a dictatorial regime. Orwell spoke not for naught about the muting of words as a means of control in his famous novel, 1984. As a person that spends a lot of time with words, I want the freedom to use any word I so please. And because I know the power of words, because I know the value of words, I use them carefully. I do not use derogatory words, and cussing comes uncomfortably to my mouth. Not because I'm afraid to say these words, but because I am free to use them and know their power. In any case, if I use the F-word as my main adjective, what will I say when something really F-worthy happens?