The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
FOR some Zimbabweans, the first contact with pioneering South African kwaito group Boom Shaka would have been after the release of their hit song, Amakwere in 1993.
For some, Boom Shaka was nothing more than eye candy. The pair of Lebo Mathosa and Thembi Seete, usually clad in skimpy clothing complimented by dance moves that seemed to match the daring outfits, usually left young men drooling and ladies green with envy.
At the birth of kwaito, this group seemed to encapsulate the attitude what the genre’s masterminds wanted it to exhibit.
Within a short space of time Boom Shaka had attained icon status and the fame that had been cooked up in the minds of Oskido and Christos Kalawa at Kalawa Jazzme spilled over to the streets of the City of Kings and other parts of the continent.
While Mathosa and Seete had striking looks and an attitude to match, Boom Shaka struck a different, socially conscious chord with Amakwere.
With apartheid on the brink of its demise, South Africa continued to witness the influx of foreign nationals into streets that were expectantly waiting for the birth of a free Mzansi.
Before the violent xenophobia that regularly explodes in that country, Boom Shaka had already seen the signs in a Mzansi battling under the yoke of apartheid. They touched on it expertly over a thumpy slowed-down beat, and ragga protest chant.
Zimbabwe, Zaire, Zambia, Mozambique
Bangibiza kwere kwere (they call me kwere kwere)
Angithi ngiyasebenza [kahle] (don’t I work well/honestly?)
Angibulali muntu (I do not kill anybody)
Angidayisi kavhivhi (I do not sell drugs or weapons)
I’m a gentleman
So went the lyrics of one of the first socially conscious kwaito songs. Because of Boom Shaka’s image and perhaps also due to the negative stereotypes that many had about this new genre that had given people barely out of their teens head spinning fame, the message in the song was surprising but showed that perhaps the fight against afrophobic violence would in future be led by the younger artistes.
Last week, when the ugly monster reared its head again, young artistes like AKA and Babes Wodumo were again in the spotlight for their utterances in light of the ongoing attacks.
Boom Shaka were not the only pioneering act to see the dangers associated with discrimination based on ethnicity. Arthur Mafokate will live forever live in the minds of many for such lighthearted hits as Oyi Oyi, but in 1995 he also struck the right social chord with his song Dai Ding.
In the track he said:
Venda kill a Xhosa man,
Xhosa kill Sotho man
Sotho kill a Zulu man
Zulu kill a mlungu man…
Tsonga kill a Venda man
Bathi mina ngiyi kwerekwere (They call me a kwere kwere)
Bathi mina ngiyikula maan (They call me a coolie)
Bathi mina ngiyi kaffir maan (They call me a kaffir)
Kodwa si amajanada sonke (Yet we are all blacks).
Yehlisani umoya (Calm down)
Masixolelane, masikhulimisane (Let’s forgive and talk to each other)
Daai ding is nie reg man (This thing is not right)
It was a surprising detour into social conscious territory for a man who would be known for the next decade as an innovator that gave kwaito some of its most infectious dance routines.
However, like the complicated dynamics behind the xenophobic attacks, South African music, also has difficult history with xenophobia. Not all artistes that have put pen to pad have fought the scourge that now seeks to tear apart Africans and South Africa’s own moral fabric.
In 2015, Maskandi singer Zanefa Ngidi found himself in hot water after he was reported to the Human Rights Commission for a single titled Abahambe Osbali, indirectly translated to foreigners must go.
The song was released just a few months after the attacks on foreign nationals in Kwazulu-Natal which followed inflammatory speech by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in which he called for the deportation of foreign nationals living in the country, saying it was unacceptable locals were being made to compete with people from other countries for the few economic opportunities available.
The song would get the maskandi artiste reported to South Africa’s Human Rights Commission. It was not the first song that had received that treatment. The recent wave of violence against those born outside South African borders has reinforced the view that it is only aimed at black immigrants only.
Those of other races, by virtue of their skin, have been largely left unscathed. However, in 2001, Mbongeni Ngema allowed his xenophobia to even ignore the rarely crossed racial lines when he released a song titled Amandiya.
“…we struggle so much here in Durban, as we have been dispossessed by Indians. I have never seen Dlamini emigrating to Bombay, India. Yet, Indians, arrive everyday in Durban – they are packing the airport full,” some of the song’s translated lyrics went
It is a line of thinking that is remarkable to ones that the violent mobs yelled into TV cameras and microphones this week when they went on the attack against fellow Africans.
The song was banned by Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) after a complaint by the South African Human Rights Commission.
“By their action he feels that they have declared war against the African race,” Ngema was to later say in a statement issued on his behalf.
“More than ever he is convinced that his entering into dialogue with the relevant stakeholders and the people on the ground to address the problem is the only way he can help his people.”
While kwaito luminaries have been hailed as a vital cog in the fight against xenophobia, the Hunger Boyz, fronted by Senyaka and Kamazu were to be accused of perpetuating it after the release of 1998’s Fong Kong. Written towards the turn of the century, the song was released when the tide was turning in Chinese-African relations.
Between 2000 and 2007 trade between China and sub-Saharan Africa was growing at a rate of 30% a year, with Africa importing more goods than it exported to the Asian nation.
Thus the song, bemoaning the prevalence of fake Chinese goods, was a runaway hit and two decades after its release, the word fong kong is part of everyday lexicon within and beyond South Africa’s borders.
After accusations of xenophobia Hunger Boyz, like Ngema, said the song was meant to protect African interests. This was despite that in the streets of Johannesburg and other major cities such goods were usually sold by immigrant Africans who this faced the anger of disgruntled locals.
“We were trying to empower darkies economically,” said Kamazu. “Most of these things [counterfeits] were bought by darkies. We were just saying let our money satisfy us.”