South African band, Bright Blue released the anti-apartheid song “Weeping” in 1987. Censorship in those days was fierce and song-writers had to use parables and innuendo to pass on any political message that was contrary to the government’s beliefs.
International superstar, Josh Grobin has recently rereleased “Weeping” and I was so moved by the powerful words that I did some research into the meaning.
Written during Apartheid by, Dan Heymann, a white South African soldier on the border of the country, it is a bitter-sweet allusion to the uncertain political times of the late 1980’s. South Africans were aware that apartheid was coming to an end, but were unsure of their future in the country. What would a new government mean for all South Africans? What would the retribution be for crimes committed on both sides of this “non-war”? The words of the song “Weeping” speak of disillusionment, fear and a conviction to do the right thing. A white South African during Apartheid looking at the deaths both black and white and trying to reconcile government propaganda with what his eyes seeing:
“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 neighbours 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”
The man who lives in fear is former South African president PW Botha, protecting the Apartheid regime with stern determination. The “demon” they sing of, the larger South African population and their growing dissatisfaction. Heymann saw crimes committed by both blacks and whites and is asking “why”? Is this really best for the whole country?
The “neighbours” are foreign journalists that were closely watching the political situation in South Africa. It is a poignant song and managed to escape the censors of the time and spent 5 weeks atop the charts of the government’s radio station.