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Pop Tune Has South Africa’s Afrikaners Yearning for the Past


In South Africa, a current radio hit is raising controversy. The tune – called De La Rey – is being interpreted as a rallying cry and protest song of Afrikaners. They are descendents of European settlers – mostly from the Netherlands – and also the former ruling racial group under the all-white National Party government. The Afrikaner era ended in 1994 with the coming of the all-race national elections. For more, reporter Unathi Kondile in Cape Town has the story.

Bok van Blerk, better known as Louis Pepler, says he had no idea his song would cause controversy. His recording company commissioned him to write and produce a song entitled De La Rey.

De la Rey was an Boer – or Afrikaner -- general who fought British colonialism in the late 1800’s.

The song talks about soldiers in distress, stuck on a cold mountain, hungry and injured. The chorus calls for De La Rey to come and lead them out of their distress.

This song coincides with feelings of alienation in the Afrikaner community - this, since the end of their nearly 50-year-rule in the 1994 all-race elections. De la Rey is also being interpreted as a sign of rebellion against the current government – led by a predominantly black African National Congress.

Former apartheid president FW de Klerk has called on the nationwide revival and appreciation of the Afrikaner culture, heritage and languages. This follows fears of an end to Afrikaner influence on a national level, as many schools have stopped teaching in the once-mandatory Afrikaner language - Afrikaans.

Bok van Blerk says he took the calls of revival as an opportunity to create a song that would unify Afrikaners around strong historical values and iconic figures. In so doing, he chose General Koos De La Rey as his album title, as well as a track name.

These same lyrics have attracted numerous interpretations, some closely associated to Afrikaner unhappiness with South Africa’s current and predominantly black government.

Marinda Claasen is a highly successful Afrikaner woman, who has extensive knowledge in the radio and music industry. She currently heads a national satellite radio station:

"It’ s very hard to tell," she said. "There’s nothing in the lyrics, nothing in the song that has anything at all about the current situation in South Africa. The song talks about a war that was fought more than a 100 years ago and a Boer general who led his troops almost to a victory … so it’s very hard to say whether it was intentional or people just read other things into it, than what was intended."

There was a time in South Africa’s history where Afrikaner singers used their music to resist apartheid. But Bok denies any political agenda in his song.

The song has been sung at traditional Afrikaner events, such as rugby games. On such occasions, some in the crowd fly the old South African flag, a symbol for some of Afrikaner nationalism and of nostalgia for the past all-white order.

Young Afrikaners have also found comfort in the song. Although many did not want to comment, one who asked to use the pseudonym Anette, agreed to speak:

"All Afrikaner youth in South Africa are lost," she said. "People stereotype us through the media throughout the world – they stigmatise us and say that we’re racist, when we’ve never been. You cannot [say that]. Sure we are not proud of the history that our forefathers had, but we are proud of our culture. "

"We’ve got very, very [good] artists and singers and poets and so –forth," she continued. "You cannot expect an entire culture to fall away. That’s why you have major music festivals -- a rebirth in the cultural aspects or the aspects of the Afrikaner culture. And so De La Rey is supposed to represent a period before apartheid in which the Afrikaner or the young South African can look back and a song that shows this is when last we were proud of our people."

The South African government has issued its own response to the controversy. The Ministry of Arts and Culture has issued a statement warning that those who intend to incite treason, by whatever means, might well find themselves in trouble with the law. The government statement added that taking up arms against a democratically elected government, no matter how much one dislikes that administration, is a crime, and a grave one at that.

Even though the song De La Rey has caused controversy, there is a lighter side to the story. Competing in popularity on the charts is a parody of the song by a

9 year-old Afrikaner singer, Son – Isha. It’s called “De La Rey, De La Rey moet a meisie kry” – which means "De La Rey, De La Rey must get a girl". It’s a humorous take on the phrase “Make Love, Not War.”

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