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In South Africa during the mid 1980s, a country still struggling with the Apartheid spawned an influential song from a rather unknown band known as “Bright Blue”. The song was known as “Weeping”, written by Dan Heyman as a reluctant soldier drafted into the South African Army. When released in 1987, the song hit the hearts of many South African oppressed people. It is difficult to understand the utter chaos and suffering caused by the Apartheid, but the lyrics and musical accompaniment of the song discreetly convey a notable message understood so deeply by all South African people. The song written as a protest cry came about immediately after the country declared a State of Emergency. Tensions during this time among the South African government and the remainder of the world were at its highest. To define, a protest song is an emotional, personal or even a political response associated with circumstances or a social movement through the perspective of its lyrics. Written as a protest song, “Weeping” was a response to the confused State of Emergency imposed by the impending downfall of the South African government during that time.
However, to understand where this song came from, it is important to discuss the situation at the time “Weeping” was put in writing. Apartheid has a tremendous amount of history. Furthermore, to analyze the song would be an injustice without explaining the circumstances during this time of turmoil. During the mid 1980s, racial tensions due to the Apartheid were from decades of conflict, death and suffering. Apartheid translated from Afrikaans language is defined as “apartness” (Majstro). Enforced during most of the 20th century, South Africa governing system known as the Apartheid, which is establishes the segregation of races. During the colonization of South Africa, racial segregation began and apartheid as an official policy launched following the general election of 1948. Apartheid commenced during the 1948 election of the South African National Party, who was the elected political party of South Africa from June 1948 until the mid 1990s. However, racial segregation had been a driving force for many years in South Africa. Over time, countless forms of legislation were introduced which extended the existing segregation against Blacks to Coloreds’ and Indians. The most significant acts, which led to “over three and a half million people relocated through forced removals (Beinart 283)”. Robbed of their citizenship, black South Africans were required legally to become citizens of self-governing homelands called Bantustans during the 1950s. Eventually a series of uprisings and protests repeated with the sanctions placed on the opposition by punishing, and arresting of the anti-apartheid leaders. As oppositions expanded and progressed to more violence, governing retaliated with increasing brutality and military supported violence.
March 21, 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre astounded the world. “At least 180 black Africans were injured and 69 killed when South African police opened fire on approximately 300 demonstrators, who were protesting against pass laws, at the township of Sharpeville (Boddy)”. For a half century, blacks in the South Africa Union were required to carry passbooks. “The passbook lists the African’s name, birthplace, and tribal affiliation, contains his picture and serial number, has space for a receipt to prove that he has paid his taxes and to list his arrests, and unless it is signed each month by his employer, the African can be herded with the other unemployed into a native reservation (Time 1)”. A system tolerated for many years by the South Africans that they despised to deeply. “Then a new and more militant organization called the Pan-African Congress decided to exploit the passbook injustice. It urged Africans all over the Union to descend upon local police stations without their passbooks, without arms, without violence and demand to be arrested (Time 1)”. During the peaceful demonstration in Sharpville, uneasy South African police opened fire on the citizens, resulting in the deadly massacre. Many more uprising and demonstrations lead to more massacres for years to come.
However, during the 1980s a administration, led by P.W. Botha, became more and more worried about security. “On the advice of American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, Botha’s government set up a powerful state security apparatus to “protect” the state against an anticipated upsurge in political violence that the reforms were expected to trigger (Fox 167)”. The 1980s was a time of substantial political disputes, when the government became increasingly attentive to Botha’s group of military leaders. Meanwhile, strict police enforcement of legislation brought about several arrests, and a stop to the African National Congress destructive campaign. As the 1980s progressed, more and more anti-apartheid organizations formed and united with the United Democratic Front. The United Democratic Front requested the South African government to end the reform process, as an alternative put an end to apartheid, and remove the homelands entirely.
More closely related to the song “Weeping”, on “July 20, 1985, State President P.W. Botha declared a State of Emergency (Pomeroy 226)”. An increasing number of organizations became banned or restricted in some way and many people had been confined to house arrest forced on them by the government. “The official figures of detention under the Internal Security Act in 1985, during the state of emergency was about 2,436 people were detained (Barber 311)”. Due to this act it gave military and the police immense authority. The government could control curfews and the travels of the oppressed African people. The president could rule by judgment without permission of parliament or adhering to the constitution. Furthermore, individuals who carried documents or who verbally opposed or threatened the government in anyway was considered a criminal offense and would be arrested. During the State of Emergency, it was illegal to disclose the name of anyone that had been arrested until the government agreed to the release of the name. An individual arrested and charged with up to ten years of prison for committing these offenses was a common occurrence. Imprisonment without a trial became a common aspect of the government’s response to a growing civil conflict and by “1988, 30,000 people had been detained (Barber 312)”. “The media was censored, thousands were arrested and many were interrogated and tortured (Blond 40)”.
In June 1986, Botha expanded the State of Emergency to involve the entire country. The Public Security Act was modified by the government, which included expanding their powers to declare conflicted areas, permitting unyielding measures to defeat demonstrations in these communities. Strict censorship of the media and journalists became a leading strategy of the government. Television cameras, news teams, and journalists were banned from entering any areas in the country. The State of Emergency continued further for an additional two years in 1987. As a result, in the 1980s through the 1990s a significant amount of the violence during this time was surprisingly among the residents themselves, but instigated and directed by the apartheid government.
Between 1986 and 1988, some minor apartheid laws were revoked. Botha told white South Africans to “adapt or die” (Time 2). Unfortunately, with these reforms in place it only triggered more intensified political violence for the remainder of the 1980s. More and more political groups and communities across the nation joined the anti political resistance movement. Due to these events, by 1987 the growth of South Africa’s economy had dropped to among the lowest rate in the world. With the country in such a large state of upheaval, tensions continued to rise along with several more demonstrations, arrests, massacres, continued segregation and a largely white military presence.
Many white and black South Africans immediately understood the message of the song “Weeping” and its lyrics. It represents a simple display of words, but reveals a strong meaning. The first line of the song “I knew a man who lived in fear”, Heyman states during a personal interview, “It refers to the late PW Botha, the last white leader of the South African government” before the fall of the Apartheid regime. Botha was well aware of the approaching end of the Apartheid, but lived in fear as to the outcome of his country, and failed to admit that South Africa was in serious need of assistance. He blocked out the entire world as to what was actually happening in the South Africa at the time. When he declared a State of Emergency, he knew “It was huge it was angry it was drawing near was the shadow of the demon he could never face”, described in the second verse of the song. The South African government at this time was faced with a worldwide difference of opinion regarding the Apartheid. “He built a wall of steel and flame and men with guns keep it tame”, relates to the South African ban of any outside media or journalist gaining access into the country. Botha wanted the world to believe that everything was okay, “he tells the world that it is sleeping”. However, there was no hiding the chaos of what was occurring at the time, “and then one day the neighbors came”. Outside the walls Botha created out of military troops, a curious crowd of world media and journalists awaited for any news. “They were curious to know about the smoke and flame; they stood around outside the wall”. It was obvious to everyone not in South Africa that turmoil only prevailed inside the walls of the country. As world leaders learned of the countries impending downfall, they came “It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping”, for the suffering of the South African people to end. Dan Heyman refers to “weeping” in the song as the general world reactions to the Apartheid. The song continues to portray the South African government and PW Botha as dishonest in their attempts to let the outside world know the current state of affairs of the country. “My friends, he said, we’ve reached our goal, the threat is under control, as long as peace and order reign, I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain”, is a bold statement inserted into the dialogue of the lyrics. Surprisingly, the anti-apartheid song made it past the government censorships boards, and did not end up on the long list of banned propaganda that plagued the country. Additionally, inserted into the song was a short instrumental portion from the African National Congress anthem “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika”, which was banned at the time that also managed to slide by the censors. The song climb to the top of music charts so quickly in conjunction with the turmoil afflicting the country, the censor boards had no time to grasp the message the song was sending.
Protests songs are an important part of our history. Looking back at history you can associate countless numbers of protest songs involved with every major event in time, whether it be a time of war, a political movement, social movement, environmentalism, or a labor movement. The topic of a protest song can be endless. However, the song generally affects every individual on a more personal issue, “We have feelings about our lives, whether boredom or excitement, about politics, no matter how remote it might sometimes seem, even about events on the other side of the globe (Jasper 405)”. This is directly the message that is portrayed in the song “Weeping”, when it refers to the journalists and the world responding to events of the Apartheid on the South African people. Protests songs can reach people on many different issues, but ultimately if the song intention creates a reaction; it is successful in the contents of its meaning.
Many white and black South Africans immediately understood the message of the song’s lyrics. Due to the country’s continuing struggle with racial segregation and after affects of the post apartheid movement, the song still continues to be heard across the country, and has been re-recorded by several other musical artists such as; Josh Groban in 2006 who was invited to perform the song at a monumental celebration known as Mandela 2009. During the concert Groban states “â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦..”. A this concert it was made very clear that South Africa still is in a state of disarray and will not continued support from other countries to revive the country.
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