At a massive Johannesburg rally in July 2023, Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, grabbed the microphone and began to chant. “Kill the Boer! The farmer!” he bellowed. The crowd of 100,000 joined in the song, an old “anti-apartheid” ditty titled “Kill the Boer,” a reference to the white Afrikaner population of South Africa who are the descendants of Dutch settlers centuries ago. Progressive activists and academics immediately insisted that the song, in which the refrain “shoot the Boer” appears 20 times, should not be taken “literally”—although the crowd did not appear to be aware of this as they pointed their fingers in the air like guns for each chorus.
On January 11, South African lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi presented video of Israeli soldiers singing a song with the line “no uninvolved civilians” to the International Court of Justice genocide hearing in the Hague. This video, Ngcukaitobi stated, is “not open to neutral interpretation or after-the-fact rationalizations and reinterpretations by Israel.” Statements made by leaders, Ngcukaitobi insisted, were an indication of “state policy,” and the “genocidal intent was not ambiguous” to those hearing it. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, incidentally, was the lawyer who defended political leader Julius Malema’s use of the song “Kill the Boer” during a 2022 trial in which the Johannesburg High Court ruled that its use did not constitute hate speech.
In an Instagram post, Ngcukaitobi also used the phrase “izwe lethu,” an Africanist slogan that translates to “the land is ours”—a South African equivalent of the Palestinian chant of “from the river to the sea.”
South Africa’s allegation that the State of Israel is currently perpetrating a “genocide” is, on the merits, preposterous. However, it provides a politically potent platform for those who hate the Jewish state to further their agenda and inhibit Israel’s ability to defend herself. Israel’s war is a direct response to the October 7 orgy of rape, torture, kidnapping, and murder perpetrated against Israeli civilians by the government of Gaza, Hamas. Polls show that nearly three quarters of Palestinians support the Oct. 7 attacks. 67% of the Arab world saw the attacks—which included the butchering of children—as “legitimate resistance” against Israel. There are still over 100 Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza.
Many are pointing out the perverse irony that South Africa is leading the charge in accusing Israel of genocide when her leaders preside over a regime in which white farmers are deliberately targeted with horrifying frequency and an average of 75 people a day were murdered in 2023 (27,494 murders were recorded for the 2022/2023 fiscal year). Murder is so common in South Africa that leaders have used the murder rate as an excuse for dismissing the farm attacks, claiming that the Boers are not being specifically targeted but are merely victims of a broader social breakdown. The standard presented by Ngcukaitobi in the Hague—that rhetoric uttered by leaders should be understood as state policy—apparently does not apply to “Kill the Boer!”
The farmers feel differently. In 2022, the Afrikaans NGO AfriForum verified 333 attacks on farms, including at least fifty murders. In the third quarter of 2023 alone, farm attacks spiked by 21% from the previous quarter, and AfriForum’s Community Safety Division confirmed 88 farm attacks—including 13 murders—between July and September of 2023. From April to June there were at least 73 attacks and 23 murders. Both AfriForum and the political party Freedom Front Plus have alleged that these attacks are racially motivated, highlighting both the use of “Kill the Boer!” by powerful political leaders as well as the slogan “One Settler, One Bullet.” The South African government claims that the motive for these attacks is limited to robbery, but many include gruesome incidents of rape and appalling torture. In 2007, the South African Police Service simply stopped reporting farm murders and merged them with general homicide statistics, making it difficult to determine the full scale of the killings.
There is no doubt that, if the pairing of genocidal rhetoric with widespread attacks on the targeted group were happening to an officially recognized “victim” group, then the Boers would be the recipients of elite sympathy. Being “white settlers,” however, they are not, and every effort is made to dismiss the crimes perpetrated against them. This has not gone unnoticed: last year, Elon Musk responded to footage of crowds chanting “Kill the Boer” by posting on X (formerly Twitter) to the president of South Africa: “They are openly pushing for genocide of white people in South Africa. @CyrilRamaphosa, why do you say nothing?” (Former president Jacob Zuma has also publicly sung “Kill the Boer!”)
Senator John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat, summed up the hypocrisy in a fiery speech defending Israel last week. “Who are they really fighting? It’s a group of cowards. They hide in tunnels. They hide behind civilians. They attack, kill, and mutilate children, women,” he said. “Stop talking about ‘proportion.’ Let’s also talk about that, now that we’re talking about ‘genocide,’ and now that South Africa is bringing that to trial. Maybe South Africa oughta sit this one out.”