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Six protest songs to brush up on before #FeesMustFall returns

The student protests that swept the country this year were punctuated by the singing of struggle songs often older than the students themselves. With the #FeesMustFall movement showing few signs of abating, AAISHA DADI PATEL lists six struggle songs you should brush up on before getting back to campus.

1. Senzeni Na

‘What have we done?’ is the chilling question posed by this anti-apartheid song, which was widely sung as protestors were antagonised and faced violence throughout the protests, and across the country. The poignant second line, “sono sethu ubumnyama” – “Our sin is that we are black” – has particular relevance in a protest against the systematic exclusion of poor and black students.

2. No woman, no cry
This version of Mr Bob Marley’s classic – mixed with Zabalaza, which translates to ‘We are struggling’ – is a necessary addition, especially given the rise of the #MbokodoLead movement which has pushed for women’s roles in the struggle to be acknowledged.

3. Amakomanisi
“My father was a garden boy, my mother was a kitchen girl, that’s why I’m a communist” is the popular refrain of this struggle song, which serves as a clear reminder of the economic inequalities that drove the protests in the first place.

4. Siyaya
A powerful anti-apartheid struggle song, the meaning of this one translates roughly as “We are going forward, despite them shooting at us or hitting us.”

5. Abalalanga
No one is 100% sure what the name of this one is, and there’s a slight change in the meaning depending on whether you’re singing about workers (abasebenzi) or students (abafundi), but the basic meaning remains: Even if we are on our knees, we’ll stand up and keep going.

6. Solomon
It was impossible to escape the haunting iYoh Solomon during the #FeesMustFall protests. The song honours the memory of slain MK fighter Solomon Mahlangu, who was put to death by the apartheid government aged barely 23. Before his execution, he told his mother “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.” In 2015, iYoh Solomon became the anthem of the revolution.

*Disclaimer: This list is based on the author’s own experiences. Several sources were consulted regarding the translations of the songs listed here. If you have any clarifications or alternative perspectives on these songs, please mention them in the comments.

Featured image via Ashraf Hendricks
6 Comments
  1. Precious Bikitsha says

    Hello, on the first song: “Senzeni na”, the second line is “isono sethu bubumnyama” and not “inyani” (inyani means truth) otherwise, great article! 🙂

  2. Bandile says

    You forgot Shiwelele, second only to Iyoh Solomon! Based on a popular house/Kwaito song by recently deceased artist Bojo Mojo, the song came about as a sort of tribute to him. One part of the song’s lyrics “Sobukwe (Biko) thethelela!”calls on the spirits of Black Consciousness leaders Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko to intervene or intercede on our behalf.The other, “sizofunda ngenkani” meaning “we will study/learn by force” shows that free, quality education is not negotiable.

  3. Bandile says

    *Bojo Mujo

  4. Aaron Jacobs says

    don’t know what it’s called but super cool when the police/management show up: “Voetsekiman! Fokofuman! wenu abafundi,”

  5. Aaron Jacobs says

    *sorry about the typo: “Voetsekiman! Fokofuman!phendula abafundi/abasebenzi”

  6. Matthews Bantsijang says

    “Washo Mandela kubalandeli bakhe wathi yinde lendlela esiyihambayo siyodibana nge — Freedom Day”

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