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Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
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Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal

#30yearsofDemocracy l #Freedom l #HumanRights

At the height of apartheid, South African radio DJs were playing a song, which included instrumentals of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the forbidden anthem of the then banned African National Congress. Apartheid South Africa enjoyed this protest song so much, that it was number one for two weeks on Radio Five, a government radio station! It seemed that while the people were rocking to Weeping, the grey censor men were sleeping.

Weeping—a protest song about the oppressive apartheid regime—was released in 1987. In 1999, Weeping was voted the South African Song of the Century. Dan Heymann first created the song as an instrumental piece to protest the loss of his freedom when he was drafted into the South African army. During the apartheid period, South Africa employed a system of compulsory military service for white men in the South African Defence Force, followed by army camps. Heymann’s freedom was taken away from him and he was forced to fight wars he did not believe in, and which were against his principles. The lyrics of the song Weeping came together after the apartheid government declared a State of Emergency and imposed a draconian ban on media coverage of what was happening in South Africa at the time. The State of Emergency was declared on 20 July 1985, by Mr P.W. Botha, the president of apartheid South Africa (1984–1989).

Heymann was questioned many times about the symbolism in the song Weeping, and he explained that the ‘man’ he was referring to in the song was P.W. Botha. The ‘demon’ that Botha could never face in the song was the aspirations of the oppressed black majority. The ‘neighbours’ referred to the journalists, who were monitoring and reporting on the atrocities committed by the apartheid regime. In her article The Beat that Beat Apartheid: The Role of Music in the Resistance against Apartheid in South Africa, Anne Schumann reflected on the role of music in the resistance against apartheid and said: “In South Africa, music went from reflecting common experiences and concerns in the early years of apartheid, to eventually function as a force to confront the state and as a means to actively construct an alternative political and social reality.” Weeping was an example of a protest song, which used symbolism to evade censorship and at the same time conveyed a powerful message of hope of the end of apartheid to the people.

Dan Heymann was a member of a rock-and-roll band called Bright Blue. They formed in Cape Town in 1983: brothers Peter (drums) and Ian Cohen (bass and vocals), Tom Fox (guitar and vocals), Robin Levetan (vocals) and Dan Heymann (keyboards). The group achieved some success playing live in South Africa, and even scored a recording deal; however, the band fell apart when Heymann and a fellow band member were conscripted. After they completed their service, the band pulled together again and recorded Weeping and other songs. Heymann plays the keyboards on the first recording of the song.

Below is the lyrics of Weeping, written by Dan Heymann and copyrighted to Bright Blue. 

I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face
He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns, to keep it tame
Then standing back, he made it plain
That the nightmare would never ever rise again
But the fear and the fire and the guns remain

It doesn’t matter now
It’s over anyhow
He tells the world that it’s sleeping
But as the night came round
I heard its lonely sound
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping

And then one day the neighbors came
They were curious to know about the smoke and flame
They stood around outside the wall
But of course there was nothing to be heard at all
“My friends,” he said, “We’ve reached our goal
The threat is under firm control
As long as peace and order reign
I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain
Why the fear and the fire and the guns remain”

Image 1: Single cover of the record released by Bright Blue in 1987 which included the song Weeping.

Images 2, 3: Images from the video of Weeping.


Bright Blue.

Bright Blue.

Schumann, A. 2008. The beat that beat apartheid: The role of music in the resistance against apartheid in South Africa. Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien Vienna Journal of African Studies, 8(14), 17–39.

Weeping, The South African Anti-Apartheid Protest Song.


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