Thursday Video: Rock song rekindles ethnic tensions in South Africa

A song about a Boer general from the turn of the 20th century is provoking a pretty heated controversy in South Africa. "De la Rey," a catchy rock ballad by solo artist Bok Van Blerk, and this week's Thursday Video, portrays the travails of a young Boer soldier fighting the British and yearning for his ...

A song about a Boer general from the turn of the 20th century is provoking a pretty heated controversy in South Africa. "De la Rey," a catchy rock ballad by solo artist Bok Van Blerk, and this week's Thursday Video, portrays the travails of a young Boer soldier fighting the British and yearning for his general's leadership:

South Africa's Afrikaner minority has seized on the song as a statement of pride and identity. Others are troubled by the divisiveness that it implies. They have a point. It's understandable that a group feeling its loss of status would want to reach back for icons and moments in history to be proud of. But, aside from the fact that chanting a general's name is a strange habit in a democracy, the cause that De la Rey fought for was less than commendable. Sure, the Boers were resisting British imperialism, but it was for the sake of their own right to marginalize and exploit the African population without British interference. 

Striking a balance between pride in one's people and acknowledgment of historical crimes is always difficult; Americans still struggle with how to evaluate slave-holding founders and populist crusaders against the Indian population. South Africa's sins are more recent; the amount of feeling this little ditty has called forth is just the latest in a number of signs that the divisions they created might still be deeper than it seems on the surface.

A song about a Boer general from the turn of the 20th century is provoking a pretty heated controversy in South Africa. "De la Rey," a catchy rock ballad by solo artist Bok Van Blerk, and this week's Thursday Video, portrays the travails of a young Boer soldier fighting the British and yearning for his general's leadership:

South Africa's Afrikaner minority has seized on the song as a statement of pride and identity. Others are troubled by the divisiveness that it implies. They have a point. It's understandable that a group feeling its loss of status would want to reach back for icons and moments in history to be proud of. But, aside from the fact that chanting a general's name is a strange habit in a democracy, the cause that De la Rey fought for was less than commendable. Sure, the Boers were resisting British imperialism, but it was for the sake of their own right to marginalize and exploit the African population without British interference. 

Striking a balance between pride in one's people and acknowledgment of historical crimes is always difficult; Americans still struggle with how to evaluate slave-holding founders and populist crusaders against the Indian population. South Africa's sins are more recent; the amount of feeling this little ditty has called forth is just the latest in a number of signs that the divisions they created might still be deeper than it seems on the surface.

Lyrics (translated by Mail and Guardian newspaper) below the fold:

On a mountain in the night
We lie in the darkness and wait
In the mud and blood I lie cold,
Grain bag and rain cling to me

And my house and my farm
Burned to ashes,
So that they could catch us
But those flames and that fire
Burn now deep, deep within me

Chorus:
De la Rey, De la Rey
Will you come to lead the Boers?
De la Rey, De la Rey
General, General, as one man
We'll fall in around you
General De la Rey

And the Khakis that laugh,
A handful of us against their whole great might,
With the cliffs to our backs,
They think it's all over

But the heart of the Boer lies
Deeper and wider
That they'll still discover
At a gallop he comes, the Lion of
The West Transvaal

Because my wife and my child
Are perishing in a concentration camp,
And the Khakis' reprisal is poured
Over a nation that will rise up again

General De la Rey
De la Rey, De la Rey
Will you come for the Boers?
We are ready

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