ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema sat at the end of a bank of 16 lawyers poised to argue whether it is hate speech to sing the lyrics "shoot the boer", in a long-awaited case which began in the Equality Court on Monday.
Court 8a of the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, sitting as the Equality Court, was packed as Judge Collin Lamont first listened to an application by trade union Solidarity and eNews to broadcast proceedings.
Malema, dressed in a formal three-piece suit in anthracite tones, was accompanied by league spokesperson Floyd Shivambu, among others.
A projection screen was set up against a wall and boxes of lever arch files rested nearby as e.tv's counsel Matthew Chaskalson argued that they should be allowed two cameras.
Lamont was opposed to adjournments to set up the cameras and he agreed that it should only take place during tea time.
Malema heavily guarded
There was no open signage or slogans on t-shirts supportive of either side at the opening of proceedings and the vociferous supporters that usually accompany Malema were absent.
He was, however, heavily guarded on his arrival at the court.
The Tshwane-based lobby group AfriForum and the Transvaal Agricultural Union of SA (TAU SA) have objected to Malema's singing of "shoot the boer" on at least five occasions.
They claim the lyrics are hurtful to certain ethnic groups, especially Afrikaners and farmers and could incite harm or propagate hatred against them.
They hope the court will declare that the "utterances" constitute hate speech in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.
They also hope the court will order Malema to make an unconditional apology to the groups and individuals affected, and ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute him in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act.
AfriForum want payment of R50 000
AfriForum and TAU SA want the court to interdict him from "inciting, encouraging or promoting hostility to other ethnic groups, Afrikaners and Afrikaner farmers not least".
They want him to pay R50 000 to the TAU SA trauma fund which assists victims of farm attacks, and to pay the cost of the suit.
The Vereeniging van Regslui vir Afrikaans (the Association of Lawyers for Afrikaans) has been admitted as a friend of the court.
In the ANC's papers, supplied to the media by AfriForum, it rejected AfriForum's notion that it was a civil rights protection group and that it was acting on behalf of Afrikaners or its members.
The ANC believed that when understood in their historical context, the words were not "objectionable utterances" as claimed and that "ibhunu or ibhulu" or "amabhulu" did not refer to farmers.
Reason for High Court use
It believed the words were not "reasonably capable" of being construed as showing an intention to be hurtful, harmful, incite harm or promote hatred against Afrikaners.
The ANC said the times Malema sang the song were consistent with the occasions at which such liberation songs were usually sung by comrades, among themselves, with no intention to be harmful.
"The ANC denies that any adverse 'associations' can reasonably be made with the words of the liberation song in question," it said in court papers.
The Equality Court is sitting at the High Court, instead of the magistrate's court where it normally sits, because the high court has wider jurisdiction.