Kaffir. Since the days of apartheid, right up to the advent of democracy, no one word has courted as much controversy as the dreaded k-word. Whites (still) use the term on the black people while some black people use it to describe other black people. Hell, some whites even use it to describe themselves. So, with 2014 being our twentieth year of democracy – and, by extension, a time of reflection – we compiled a list of some of the most high profile uses of the k-word in post-apartheid South Africa:
“Don’t call me kaffir”
It’s 1995. A year after South Africa’s first democratic election and the country is still wrapping it’s head around its new-found freedom. For the first time in the country’s history we have a black president. Plus it’s the year the Springboks won the World Cup (who can forget that iconic image of Mandela handing the trophy to Francois Pienaar?). Still, it’s just a year after the end of Apartheid and, as such, a considerable number of black people still live in abject poverty. Much has changed while very little has changed. While the country tries to adjust to the national flux of identity, in steps a young Arthur Mafokate with a demand: “don’t call me a kaffir”. Taken off his EP with the same name, Kaffir was far more than a song that was controversial just for the sake of it. With lines like: “you would not like it if I called you a baboon. Even when I try washing up, you still call me a kaffir”, it was a record that signified a seismic shift in our nation’s psyche. A record that said: “Apartheid is over. Like it or not, you will acknowledge my humanity! Period!”. And despite the record being banned by a few radio stations, it still sold over a 150 000 copies – highlighting that Mafokate’s message was heard loud and clear.
“Stop Thinking Like a Kaffir”
I don’t think I need to recount the controversy that ensued when Orlando Pirates’ chairman and SAFA vice-president Irvin Khoza called a black journalist a “kaffir” in 2008 . After being questioned on the preparations for the World Cup, Iron Duke told the journalist: “Stop thinking like a kaffir because you are contriving and misleading about something that is not there.”
This is funny because, having lived under the Apartheid regime, the good Doctor should understand the ignominy of being called a ‘kaffir’ as a black man. Maybe this is an internalized self-hatred that comes with being systematically abused on the account of one’s skin colour. Or they just caught him on a bad day.
Die Antwoord are no strangers to controversy. In fact, one might argue that controversy is the nucleus of their success. The South African rap-rave band – comprised of Ninja, Yolandi Visser and Dj Hi-Tek – has received international acclaim for their eccentric music and their parody of South African working class life. But for as much acclaim as they have received, they have received equal condemnation for promoting regressive, stereotypical representations of black and coloured South Africans.
Take, for an example, an interview that the group’s front man, Ninja, did with lifestyle website ‘2oceansvibe’. Ninja, who has previously released music under his real name – Watkin Tudor Jones – was asked to explain his image; which comprises of prison tattoos that represent various elements of Cape Flats’ gang-culture. He offered the following response:
“God made a mistake with me. I’m actually black, trapped in a white body”. He further went on to quote a line from “Never Le Nkemise”, a song off their sophomore album, “Ten$ion”, where he proclaims: ‘Ek is Ninja, die wit k*ffir’.
Ninja’s statement is worrying for a number of reasons. Firstly, that he (a middle class, well-resourced white man) thinks it’s okay to bandy about the word kaffir in post-aparthied South Africa is alarming given the historically derisive connotation it harbours. Secondly, and perhaps more worryingly, it’s regressive and downright racist to equate blackness with gangsterism. Read his above-mentioned statement again. He’s using the k-word as a synonym for “black”. To him, a black is a kaffir is a gangster. They’re all the same thing. Verwoerd must be looking down at Ninja and flashing a hearty smile.
“Disrespectful and arrogant kaffirs”
Remember the shit-storm that ensued two years back when Jessica Leandra, an FHM model, tweeted: “just well [sic] took on an arrogant and disrespectful kaffir inside Spar”? She didn’t clarify what this poor “kaffir” did, but she did insinuate that she had done society a huge service because “these are the kind of people that land up raping young girls in our country”. There you have it. Attributing rape and sexual harassment to a particular race isn’t racist at all: you’re actually doing your country a service! Ride on Jessica!
On a more serious note, Leandra’s incident raises a few questions. Leandra is 22 years old – which makes her just two years older than our democracy. This means she’s lived almost her whole life in post-apartheid South Africa, under a regime that has no repressive apartheid laws. Where did she learn to use that kind of language? Apartheid is largely seen as a sin our forefathers committed. “I wasn’t there dude,” is the most popular response born-frees (and 90’s babies in general) give when asked if Apartheid affects them. So what’s Leandra’s excuse? And what does her behavior say about this whole rainbow nation thing? We can only wonder.
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