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Why is Dookoom so angry?

2014-10-12 15:59

Johannesburg - There are irate farm workers, pitchforks and tyres, and the word ‘poes’ is used every few seconds, but brazen new hip-hop metal outfit Dookoom wants to spark ­conversation, not violence. Grethe Koen from City Press asks the band tough questions.

It is one of those videos that – for better or worse – raises goose bumps on your arms when you watch it. Larney Jou Poes by Cape Town band Dookoom – roughly translated, the name is a reference to “a cursed person” – is a reflection on the land issue and a stark indictment of the plight of farm workers in South Africa.

The video, shot in black and white, opens with a hen pecking at scraps on an idyllic farm.

Then Isaac Mutant, Cape Flats underground hip-hop legend and Dookoom frontman, spits into the camera: “Farmer Abrahams had many farms/ And many farms had Farmer Abrahams/ I work one of them and so would you/ So let’s go burn ’em down.”

Is it political hip-hop, or is it hate speech? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Who is Dookoom?

I’m interviewing the band on Skype as they work on a bottle of Jägermeister in the “Dookoom offices” – a room they won’t show me past what I can see on my iPad screen.

The group itself is a rainbow nation wet dream.

There is Spooky with her shaved blonde head on visuals, British-born Human Waste (aka Dplanet) on beats and backing vocals, Cape Flats muso Roach on the decks, lyricist Isaac Mutant and then Lilith, an amorphous id who wears a stocking over her face because “why do you want to see my face? Just listen to my voice.”

Isaac Mutant has been on the scene for a while and is certainly one of the forces that influenced the creation of controversial zef rappers Die Antwoord.

The anger

Isaac Mutant will tell you that he’s “a very, very angry person”. He penned Larney Jou Poes in a rage after the De Doorns wine farm worker strikes.

Starting in late 2012, the Western Cape wine industry came to a standstill as workers demanded an increase to R150 from their daily salary of R69.39.

“Nobody was talking about it or sticking with these bras,” says Isaac Mutant. “And I actually have family in Vredendal who come from that kind of background. And I was pissed off enough to do a track about it.”

Cape wine farms have an uncomfortable history. Built by settlers on the back of the slave trade, during apartheid many farmers relied on the dop system, where workers were paid in part or in full with liquor.

In Larney Jou Poes, workers pour papsaks (bags of cheap wine) into each other’s mouths.

“Bra, remember, you came here in 1652/ You a skollie too/ You were fokken sentenced with a convict crew/ You robbed and screwed the natives/ Now who’s the savage?” go part of the lyrics in Larney Jou Poes.

By the end of the video, we see the group burning their logo into a grassy hill.

The backlash

#Trending sent a link to the video to singer Steve Hofmeyr – who has been outspoken on farm attacks and “white genocide” – for comment, but his schedule did not allow him time to respond this week.

AfriForum’s Ernst Roets condemned the video in the strongest terms: “Farm murders are a massive problem in South Africa, and to romanticise burning down a farm is ridiculous. We are considering laying charges of hate speech.” AgriSA is also deeply unhappy.

But the band insists that their intention is not to incite violence. “There’s a difference between expressing anger and inciting violence. Let’s focus on why people are angry. Social injustice. Surely treating workers worse than animals is an incitement to violence?” says Human Waste.

“We want people to feel uncomfortable, like we’re bringing it to your doorstep. Our anger is coming to your home. It’s not a threat of violence; it’s an expression of frustration at the legacy of the system.”

Isaac Mutant says: “We’re burning our logo on to the land because we want to reclaim it. We’re definitely not burning any farms.”

But whether there’s a difference between burning a logo into a hill and actually burning a farm is up for interpretation.

“Reclaiming the land from whom?” I ask.

“Basically, the corporate world. Capitalism. Anyone who is a larney – who identifies with capitalism,” says Roach. “It’s a universal thing: Fuck the boss.”

On the farm

The Larney Jou Poes video was directed by talented newcomer Dane Dodds and shot on a farm in the Eastern Cape. “I came up with the concept. However, a music video is always an interpretation of a song that also must fit into the universe of the artist,” says Dodds.

Shooting the video turned out to be an eye-opener for Isaac Mutant, who says he was not expecting the owner of the farm to be so liberal and welcoming.

“I was a bit shocked at first because I’m a coloured bra and that side of the world is very... conservative, is probably the word.”

“Verkramp!” yells Roach.

But the real question is whether this video, meant to be on the side of disenfranchised workers, will help or harm its cause.

Nosey Pieterse, general secretary of the Black Agricultural Workers’ Union of SA, was particularly vocal during the De Doorns strikes.

“Artists have a role to play. I have no qualms with artists expressing their opinions on social issues,” he said of the video. “But workers need a more positive way to have their issues heard.”

I comment: “But so far nothing seems to have worked.”

Pieterse replies: “Yes, and it’s unfortunate that violence and farm attacks is the only language that people seem to understand. It is the only thing that gets the media’s attention. If something positive doesn’t happen for farm workers, and soon, we will see the same situation we saw in 2012. And workers may feel attacking farms is their only recourse.”

Despite these accusations of hate speech, my experience interviewing Dookoom was that they were a politically aware group of artists who seem sincere about wanting Larney Jou Poes to be the beginning of a much-needed and overdue debate.

“We’re making a point about social injustice and the legacy of apartheid,” says Human Waste. “If you’re offended by the video, then you are the problem.”

What is hate speech?

Hate speech is defined in section 16(2)(c) of the Constitution as the “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm”.

The intended “harm” does not have to be physical; it can also be psychological, in terms of the emotional distress caused by insults based on racial or gender abuse, or other grounds. The “incitement” part requires a level of propaganda of hateful ideas.

According to Yvonne Burns’ Communication Law (2009), “hate propaganda is not legitimate speech. It is a form of harassment and discrimination that should be deterred and punished, just like any other behaviour that harms people. Free speech cannot be degraded to the extent that it becomes a licence to harm.”

What is incitement to violence?

Section 16(2)(b) of the Constitution prohibits “incitement of imminent violence”.

The US has adopted a test to see if offensive speech creates a “clear and present danger” of violence.

South African courts have not yet decided on the matter, but the context in which a statement is made is important to judge if the speech is likely to incite immediate violence.

The violence being incited must be unlawful violence to fall within this exception to free speech.

- Dookoom’s new EP, A Gangster Called Big Times, is released on Wednesday

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