Post ’94 Protest Music in South Africa

This week marks the second anniversary of mixtapes.ZA. To mark the occasion we have put together a mixtape of post-1994 protest songs, reflecting on how popular musicians have continued to speak out against injustice, despite the toppling of the apartheid government.

South African protest music against the apartheid system is well documented and has been featured in various mixtapes over the past two years. When, in 1994, the African National Congress came to power it was hoped that there would no longer be a need for protest music against injustices. However, extreme poverty and government corruption have continued. As the gap between the rich and poor grew, and public infrastructure deteriorated, some musicians began to protest the ongoing economic inequalities and government corruption through their music. Others also protested the relentless violent misogynist attacks against women which characterize life in South Africa.

This mixtape features a selection of music from different genres which tackle a cross-section of injustices. While there is some debate about what constitutes a protest song, for this mixtape we have selected songs which voice opposition to an injustice. Sometimes the songs are angry, other times they are mournful, and on occasion they are even humorous, when musicians use laughter as a weapon against injustice.

After the initial euphoria that came with the ending of apartheid, musicians began to voice concerns about greed and self-interest in the ANC government. In their 1998 release, “Put Off Saving The World”, Dorp tackled the problem of greed, both in society generally and within the government – “We’ve got inside information; On government masturbation; Don’t need no explanation; To come to a conclusion; It’s a fuct up situation.”

This situation worsened and as the early 2000s set in, service delivery was failing, infrastructure was falling apart and corruption was spreading. In “Potholes And Politicians”, Fuzigish drew a direct connection between government corruption and failing infrastructure: “On my way back home I hit another pothole; The government’s corrupted, the constitution is ill; All I seem to do is pay another bill.” While The A. K. Massive reflected that government lies and corruption put paid to dreams of a better future: “Ahh corruption! No more lies … In a country that teaches you to reach for the future, but be satisfied with less …” Similarly, in “Die Stad Bloei Vanaand”, Johannes Kerkorrel agonizes, “the dream was promised, but just another lie has been sold.”

During the Zuma years government corruption in the form of state capture was so appalling that Freshlyground called South Africa a “Banana Republic”:

All your people dying in freedom
Suffering a profound lack of leading
Are you even there when we call?
Are you a human, man?
Full of lies! Can’t believe what I’m hearing
From your lips a river of scheming
Poisoning all the water we’re drinking
Are we good to go?
Emergency
Discovery
No opportunity
It’s just another day in the Banana Republic
State of emergency!!!!

Freshlyground’s reference to the current situation as a “State of Emergency” especially rankled ANC supporters because it effectively compared Zuma’s abuse of power to that of the apartheid state, who tried to hold on to power through the declaration of a series of States of Emergency in the mid-to-late 1980s. Simphiwe Dana similarly draws a comparison between the two eras – in “State of Emergency”. She protests the way conditions in post-apartheid South Africa mirror the conditions facing the youth of 1976: “Only poverty reigns in our streets”. Lilitha’s “Marikana” also stands as a comparison between apartheid South Africa and the current ANC regime: this time miners shot dead by the new South African Police Services, defending the interests of mining capital.

Johnny Clegg’s “Asilazi” is “about an ordinary person who has to give up power to guarantee
their place in an uncertain tomorrow and the chorus is about those who have been waiting for
so long for this change to take place” (Johnny Clegg). While in “Zabalaza”, Thandiswa
Mazwai considers how those people waited in vain. She laments the state of South Africa and
asks how these atrocities can be happening in her father’s house, suggesting that the
government ought to be the father of the nation, securing everyone’s needs: “Why is it this
way? At my own father’s house; For their blood, sweat and tears; For their struggle and pain;
’Cause they gave up their lives for this.”

“Skunk Atavistic” by Lesego Rampolokeng & Kalahari Surfers is a stream of consciousness type dub poem with moments of bitter protest such as “Amandla for what? Not a fist you are clinching; It’s your sphincter.” Meanwhile in “Politics” Skwatta Kamp overtly and angrily protested the failure of the ANC government to deliver a better society to South Africans:

To me political parties are like escort agencies,
Those that fuck around the most get more money.
Of course they work hard to make their own pockets fat.
They don’t give a fuck about you and me it’s all an act.
Call me ignorant but I know my shit, I got direction.
Why the fuck you think I don’t take part in these elections.
Flabba signing out A-N-C you later.
Skwatta Kamp people’s thoughts are always greater.

Karen Zoid and Kaalvoet Prinses address the most appalling feature of South African society: endemic sexual violence against women. Zoid sings “Justice! Justice! Lock up all the rapists and thrown away the key” while Kaalvoet Prinses (Tremaine Barnes) who champions the Barefoot Campaign which supports victims and survivors of gender based violence, also protests violence against women with her call to action: “Women gave birth to this human race; And a new born girl gets a can of mace …”

Some musicians have used satire, irony and humour to critique human rights abuse and corruption. Witty and biting criticism is able to ridicule those in the wrong, and the subsequent laughter signifies moral triumph over the wrong doing.

In “Die Fokkol Song” (“The Fuck All Song”), Koos Kombuis makes humorous use of the term ‘fuck all” to ridicule and protest the government’s inability to provide South Africa’s basis needs. The song was released prior to the 2010 Football World Cup, and he introduced the song as though it was a welcome message broadcast to tourists arriving at the airport:

“Welcome to the airport, it’s the year 2010, I’m assuming you’re here to watch the soccer games. We finally have a chance to show the world our friendly democracy, so make yourself at home.

Fuck all petrol, Fuck all diesel, Fuck all TV, Fuck all power, Fuck all water in your whisky, Fuck all jokes to laugh about, Fuck all pills at the clinic, Fuck all doctors when you ask, Fuck all people to take the rubbish from your pavement… Welcome to South Africa. Yes, Welcome to South Africa.”

Roger Lucey set his song “Dalai Lama” to the tune of a traditional South African song “Daar Kom Die Alibama” (“There Comes The Alibama”) which apparently commemorated the visit of the warship, ‘The Alibama’, to Cape Town in 1863. Lucey made use of the similar sounding names to sing a humorously cutting critique of the Zuma government’s unlawful (pro-China) refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a South African visa to attend Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations. In “House Of Parliament Blues” Tony Cox uses humour mock the shenanigans which go on in Parliament.

In “Blue Light Brigade” the Kalahari Surfers cut and paste Julius Malema’s outrageous verbal attack against a journalist to both criticize and ridicule his behaviour, which is characteristic of the general arrogance of the ruling party politicians (at that stage Malema was an ANC member), most clearly evidenced in the way they race through the streets escorted by the South African Police with no regard for road rules or the rights of the average citizen:

Blue light Brigade
not another cavalcade
to knock you off your bike
as they jump a red light
or beat you to the ground
like a dog
to the sound
of the sirens
and the violence
unleashed
when you express your outrage

When Justin Nurse’s satirical T-shirt company, Laugh It Off, produced a T-shirt which parodied South African Breweries’ Black Label beer (“Black Labour, White Guilt”), South African Breweries sued them. David Kramer recorded and contributed the song “More Reward” towards a fund-raiser CD to help with legal costs. The song protests South African Breweries’ practices: “As we raise out glasses now that freedom’s here; Does the working man really profit from the beer?”

SOIL 7T7 and Half Price protest racism and capitalism respectively. “Can’t Keep Us Down” by SOIL 7T7 is a protest song by means of mobilising people against racism. They sing, “You can’t keep us down; ‘Cos we are coming around .. And we’re never gonna give it up”. Half Price’s “Guess It’s War” also calls for people to mobilise: “we should fight for our freedom, I think that we should die for what we believe in. If you think that it’ll end up alright. That’s bullshit cause it won’t, no it won’t. Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight.”

What these songs show us is that while there are issues we need to protest, South African democracy allows for such protests to be voiced. Songs like these would most probably have been banned by the apartheid government and/or the South African Broadcasting Corporation. And so, for now, that’s one thing we don’t have to protest.

  1. Banana Republic – Freshlyground (2017)
  2. State Of Emergency – Simphiwe Dana (2012)
  3. Zabalaza – Thandiswa Mazwai (2004)
  4. Marikana – Lilitha (2016)
  5. 41 000 Sisters – Kaalvoet Prinses (2019)
  6. Justice! Justice! – Karen Zoid (2015)
  7. Asilazi – Johnny Clegg (2006)
  8. More Reward – David Kramer (2003)
  9. Skunk Atavistic – Lesego Rampolokeng & Kalahari Surfers (2021)
  10. Blue Light Brigade – Kalahari Surfers (2012)
  11. House Of Parliament Blues – Tony Cox (2016)
  12. Dalai Lama – Roger Lucey (2011)
  13. Die Fokkol Song – Koos Kombuis (2008)
  14. Can’t Keep Us Down – SOIL 7T7 (2003)
  15. Politics – Skwatta Kamp (2002)
  16. Put Off Saving The World – Dorp (1998)
  17. Potholes And Politicians – Fuzigish (2002)
  18. Ahh Corruption – AK Massive (2005)
  19. Guess It’s War – Half Price (2006)
  20. Die Stad Bloei Vanaand – Johannes Kerkorrel (2000)

Songs About South African Streets

Music has the ability to capture the spirit of a place. This is a theme we have been exploring in the past few mixtapes about music and place names in South Africa. This mixtape continues that theme, but takes us right down to street level. Musicians have regularly been inspired to compose songs about the street they live or work in, a road they drive along, or to commemorate someone a street is named after.

Simphiwe Dana begins this mixtape with such a song: an ode to Steve Biko and the black consciousness ideas he encouraged. Biko said that, “A people without a positive history are like a vehicle without an engine.” And Dana seems to suggest that when black South Africans find that engine, they drive down Bantu Biko Street, celebrating their pride and dignity.

Also exploring principles through the metaphor of street names, in “Ambush Street” the Kalahari Surfers comment on South Africans being ambushed by corruption, some trying to beat the Jo’burg heat, discreetly breaking the law in Ambush Street. The woman in Jennifer Ferguson’s “In Judith Road” also breaks the law, doing what she needs to get by: “She feeds the fat boys ginger biscuits and masturbates the rest”.

The singer in Beatenberg’s “M3” thinks about how the freeway he drives along connects him to the person he sings to in the song, following the road wherever it takes him. Also in Cape Town, Bright Blue’s “2nd Avenue” is where the singer stops to make a bane, on the way to the station to catch a train.

Many of the songs on this mixtape capture the feel of streets solely through music, not using lyrics at all. From the upbeat vibe of the Boyoyo’s song about Eloff Street in the Jo’burg city centre to the mellow rural folksiness of Nibs van der Spuy & Guy Buttery’s Lobombo Mountain Drive in KwaZulu-Natal.

So many moments and places are aptly captured in songs, allowing us to remember or perhaps just to imagine …Wherever these songs take you, we hope you enjoy the journey!

  1. Bantu Biko Street – Simphiwe Dana
  2. New Street – Dave Goldblum
  3. M3 – Beatenberg
  4. Nuttall Street – Basil Coetzee
  5. Hanover Straat – Anton Goosen
  6. 2nd Avenue – Bright Blue
  7. Eloff Street No 2 – Boyoyo Boys
  8. 10th Avenue – African Jazz Pioneers
  9. WD 46 Mendi Road – Dick Khoza
  10. In Judith Road – Jennifer Ferguson
  11. Down Rockey Street – Moses Molelekwa
  12. Ntuli Street – Bheki Mseleku
  13. London Drive – Jo’burg City Stars
  14. Freeway to Soweto – David Thekwane & the Boyoyo Boys
  15. Ambush Street – Kalahari Surfers
  16. Armitage Road – The Heshoo Beshoo Group
  17. N3 East – Nishlyn Ramanna
  18. Lobombo Mountain Drive – Nibs van der Spuy & Guy Buttery
  19. 9 Aldershot Road – Government Car
  20. Mampuru Street – Sakhile

Blasphemy!

This mixtape focuses on songs banned by the apartheid government’s central censorship board because they were deemed blasphemous.

The apartheid government propagated a form of Calvinism so conservative and tainted that it justified apartheid, restricted nudity and sex to the procreative bedroom and exalted a bigoted and prudish god, whose sabbath was kept boringly sacred. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the central apartheid censors took a dim view on any song that undermined their narrow view of god, ridiculed Christians and, even worse, promoted Satan.

John Lennon’s “God” was banned simply because John Lennon stated that God is a concept and that he didn’t believe in the bible and Jesus.  Meanwhile Chris De Burgh’s song “Spanish Train” was viewed as blasphemous because in the song God and the devil play chess and poker over the souls of the dead, and the devil cheats and wins more souls, without God realising.

Both Peter Sarstedt’s “Take Off Your Clothes” and Glenda Kemp’s “Strip Tea” raised the ire of the censors because they brought into disrepute men of the cloth, especially in a sexual context. In the former, because the protagonist’s “daddy is the pope you know, and I just want to grope you know” while in the latter, Glenda Kemp’s vicar comes to visit for a pastoral cup of tea but ends up partaking in an unexpected “Strip Tea”.

Don McLean’s “American Pie” offended the censors because of lines like: “No angel born in hell could break that Satan’s spell; And as the flames climbed high into the night; To light the sacrificial rite, I saw Satan laughing with delight” and “The father, son and holy ghost, they caught the last train for the coast.”

Two musicals based on the life of Jesus – Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell – were controversially received by some Christians far and wide. The South African censors were no exception. They objected to the way Mary Magdalene tried to seduce Jesus on both soundtracks: Yvonne Elliman’s sensual “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar and Sonia Manzano’s burlesque-style “Turn Back, O Man” from Godspell, with the provocative line “C’mere Jesus, I’ve got something to show ya!” The theme song, “Superstar” from the former show, sung by Murray Head and the Trinidad Singers, was viewed as blasphemous for calling Jesus a superstar, banned by way of being a song on the album but also as a single.

The censors thought that Des & Dawn’s humorous treatment of ‘Dese Bones Gonna Rose Again” was unacceptable, and that the Kalahari Surfers’ protest about the SADF Maseru cross-border raid, through adapting the words to the Christian “Lord’s Prayer”, was equally unacceptable. Similarly, “Prayer” by Spooky Tooth and Pierre Henry was deemed undesirable by the censors, because of its use of the same prayer in a progressive rock context.

The censors strongly objected to Christ The Album by Crass; believing the album title was blasphemous, as were lyrics to the song “I Know There Is Love” which was critical of the role of Christianity in propagating war: “You’ve … thrust in my hands your gun and your bible, you told me to kill for the lord up above.”

“Ishmael” by Abdullah Ibrahim was the only song banned by the Directorate of Publications for reasons of blasphemy according to a religion other than Christianity. In this instance, the Muslim Judicial Council objected to Abdullah Ibrahim putting words from the Koran to a musical backing, an act which they deemed blasphemous, and which was upheld by the state censors.

The censors also objected to the name of a group called Satan and banned their album Court In The Act because of songs like “Hunt You Down”, which they argued promoted the power of Satan. Likewise, Mercyful Faith’s “The Oath” and “Mark Of The Beast” by The Sinyx (off the Crass Records Bullshit Detector compilation) were regarded as anti-Christian by means of promoting Satan. Finally, Diamanda Gala’s “The Litanies Of Satan”, affronted the censors, who objected to what she looked like on the cover, what she sounded like on the record and the fact that she prayed to Satan. The song and album were promptly banned.

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1989

The eighties ended with a wide variety of South African music making the Capital Radio Top 40 Countdown (14 songs released in 1989 made the charts) and even more which did not chart. Of the songs we suggest should have charted, three are by artists who did make the charts but who had other songs worthy of radio play: David Kramer, Edi Niederlander and Savuka.

In a market where so many South African musicians packed in their musical ambitions after a single or an album or two it was reassuring to see so many musicians who were still releasing music who had been there at the beginning of the 1980s: Johnny Clegg (as part of Juluka), Dog Detachment (as Dog), Sipho Gumede (as a member of Spirits Rejoice and then with Sakhile), David Kramer, Sipho Mabuse (as a member of Harari), Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Sipho Mchunu (as part of Juluka) and Tim Parr (as a member of Baxtop and then with Ella Mental) all released significant music which either charted on Capital Radio in 1980 or which curiously missed out. There were also others who were performing in 1980 who released music in 1989: members of the African Jazz Pioneers, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens and Edi Niederlander.

Shifty Records were still releasing poignant music for the times: Johannes Kerkorrel’s Gereformeerde Blues Band and Koos Kombuis, main attractions of the Voelvry Tour, as well as the Kalahari Surfers, Noise Khanyile & the Jo’Burg City Stars and Winston’s Jive Mix Up. There were also good tunes from Cape Town-based musicians, Amampondo and Niki Daly.

We recognise that even in our missed mixed tapes we have ironically missed other songs from the 1980s which you might think were worthy of airplay at the time. Some of these have already been pointed out to us. If you have noticed any songs which have been missed, either by Capital Radio or on Mixedtapes.ZA please leave your suggestions in the comments section and we will do out best to include them in next week’s double missed mixtape!

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Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1987

There were fourteen South African songs that charted on the Capital Countdown Top 40 in 1987 and we suggest another sixteen which we think should have joined them. Two of these songs are by groups (Bright Blue and Savuka) who made the Top 40, but with only one song each. The rest were well-established musicians who somehow or other escaped the Capital music manager’s radar.

Once again their was a cluster of Shifty Records artists with some iconic songs deserving of a wider audience: Cherry Faced Lurchers, Jennifer Ferguson, Kalahari Surfers and Mr Mac and the Genuines. Syd Kitchen had been around for a decade and a half and finally recorded his debut album Waiting For The Heave, but he had to keep on waiting because his music was ignored by virtually everyone other than a few campus radio stations. All Night Radio had been around for a few years but were also battling to be noticed by radio stations. Bayete’s debut album also escaped Capital’s attention, as did anything ever released by Chicco, Mahlathini And The Mohatella Queens, Hugh Masekela, Sabenza, the Soul Brothers and Zia. Gothic band No Friends of Harry released an impressive debut EP but also failed to make the Capital Top 40.

The elephant in the room was the fear of the security branch and the possibility of losing the license to broadcast and so it almost went without saying that Capital would not playlist an overtly anti-apartheid song like Savuka’s “Asimbonanga” (although the slightly less obvious political song, “Missing” did chart in 1987). Perhaps this is why Capital ignored Shifty’s music, even though there were several classic songs which they released which would not have interested the security branch in the slightest, “Bay Of Bombay” by Jennifer Ferguson being one of them. Interestingly, the SABC sponsored a video of the song which they screened:

Capital could have got away with Chicco’s clever “We Miss You Manelow” in which he playfully laments the absence of someone called Manelow, but which everyone knew was Mandela.

Sadly, a lot of the exciting musical contests of the day seemed to bypass Capital. Be sure to give these a songs a listen now, they deserve your attention!

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Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1986

There were just nine South African songs on the Capital Radio Top 40 in 1986, which is remarkable given the wide array of good South African music recorded and released that year. In particular the independent label, Shifty Records, was continuing to pick up on a variety of worthwhile music which nobody else was prepared to record.

Indeed, the idea behind Shifty was to document (by recording) music that reflected South African life – both musically and lyrically – and we have included a variety of their release on the 1986 mixtape: the Cherry Faced Lurchers, Dread Warriors, the Genuines, Isja, the Kalahari Surfers, Noise Khanyile, Mapantsula, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Simba Morri and Nude Red all deserved to be heard by a wider audience. But to Shifty’s and the artists’ frustration, radio stations were not interested. However, it ought to be noted that the Cherry Faced Lurchers (The Other White Album) and the Dread Warriors albums were recorded but not released at the time. We think they most definitely should have been.

Three songs included here – “Don’t Dance”- Kalahari Surfers, “Pambere” – Mapantsula and “Too Much Resistance”- Nude Red – are taken from the anti-conscription Forces Favourites compilation album which Shifty brought out in partnership with the End Conscription Campaign. The album was actually released in December 1985 but released internationally (through Rounder Records) in 1986, which is the year we went with for the mixtapes. In the mid-1980s South Africa was in a state of civil war (and emergency) and many of Shifty’s artists reflected this reality through their music. In fact, Mzwakhe Mbuli’s Change is Pain album was banned by the apartheid government’s Directorate of Publications.

London-based Kintone’s single ‘State of Emergency’ also captured the turbulent times in South Africa, as to a lesser extent did Stimela’s “Who’s Fooling Who”, David Kramer’s “Dry Wine” and (by now also London-based) eVoid’s “Sgt. Major”, a song which could easily have fitted on the Forces Favourites compilation. 1986 also saw the first release from Bayete, who would soon be recording and performing politically astute songs of their own. Other politically relevant new music in 1986 came from Edi Niederlander, who had been performing on the folk scene for years, and Johnny Clegg’s new band, Savuka.

1986 saw the introduction of Keith Berel’s new band, Carte Blanche, Jonathan Handley’s new band, Titus Groan, and Zasha. We also saw the return of Lesley Rae Dowling, Falling Mirror, Steve Kekana, Sipho Mabuse and Zia. All in all a wide and enjoyable spectrum of new music.

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Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1985

1985 saw a record number of 17 South African releases on the Capital Radio Top 40 Countdown. Yet there were several other songs which we think also should have charted. These included additional songs by musicians who did chart that year: Johnny Clegg’s “Gumba Gumba Jive”, Sipho Mabuse’s “Jive Soweto” and Tribe After Tribe’s “Life Of A Love Song”.

Several overseas musicians in exile released music in 1985 which was ignored or avoided by South African radio stations including Capital. These were District Six (with “Woza Wena”) , Kintone (with “Going Home”), the Malopoets (with “Intsizwa”) and Hugh Masekela (with “Lady”). These overseas releases involved several collaborations with overseas musicians: both District Six and Kintone comprised several overseas musicians while Masekela’s “Lady” was a cover of the well-known Fela Kuti track. Further, John Kongos wrote the theme tune for the British crime drama Cats Eyes and teamed up with British singer Louise Burton to record a vocal version of the theme (featured in this week’s playlist).

Meanwhile, Shifty Records was beginning to record an increasing volume of South African music which otherwise would probably have not been recorded. This week’s mixed tape includes several Shifty artists: The Cherry Faced Lurchers with their poignant “Shot Down”, the Kalahari Surfers (fronted by Tighthead Fourie) singing “Song For Magnus, a sinister cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking”, “International News” by National Wake (Off the 1985 A Naartjie In Our Sosatie compilation album) and Bernoldus Niemand singing a cover of the Radio Rats’ “Welcome To My Car”, which was specifically banned from airplay on the SABC.

There were also several township pop style songs: “Bongani” by Brenda And The Big Dudes, “Heartbeat” by Harari, “Jive Soweto” by Sipho Mabuse and “Skorokoro” – Lumumba and Condry Ziqubu. Zia ventured in that same direction with “Nobody Loves You” and to complete a wide range of South African sounds for 1985, Petit Cheval released the new wave influenced “Once In A Lifetime”.

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