Political Songs | 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

A lighthearted magazine article rating the choice of Dolly Parton’s working-woman anthem as the best US Democratic walk-out rally song brings to mind encounters with former far right leader Eugene Terre’Blanche.

A witty article from the United States edition of Elle magazine sent by a friend which rated 19 United States Democratic presidential candidates’ walk-out songs for a rally in Iowa, oddly brought back memories of my relationship with Eugene Terre’Blanche. He was the leader of the fascist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging party (Afrikaner Resistance Movement, or AWB) who was murdered in 2010. 

Unlike Facebook’s “it’s complicated”, our relationship was simple: Terre’Blanche and his hoodlums hated me and I despised them in return. What was complicated is that I spent most of the early 1990s in their company, covering right-wing politics for The Weekly Mail (now Mail & Guardian) and then the Sunday Times, and as a researcher for a British documentary about the far right in South Africa called The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife.

Often the only journalist at their rallies in some or other dusty, desolate dorp – dressed down in different shades of beige and speaking better Afrikaans than most of them – they knew instantly that I was an outsider. “Kyk daar (Look there),” they would point. “Dis ’n fokken joernalis (it’s a fucking journalist).”

It must have been the fact that the AWB played their own peculiar type of music at meetings that jogged old memories. Terre’Blanche’s walk-out “song” was a rather puerile, school sports-like chant of “AWB! AWB! AWB!” punctuated with faux Nazi salutes from his khaki-clad supporters. They loved ending their meetings with a horribly out-of-tune rendition of a bombastic Afrikaans song, “En hoor jy die magtige dreuning (And do you hear the mighty roar)?” At some rallies, the AWB’s brass band tortured their instruments and our ears, proving that the ability to play an instrument was never a party membership requisite.

The meetings from there on out were predictable. The bearded one would roar the same old “when old Mandela takes over, that night there will be waaaaaarrrr!” through a cloud of spit, the supporters on their feet, roaring back, “AWB! AWB! AWB!” 

They often jeered when Terre’Blanche attacked us – “Skande! Sies! Skande! (Shame! Sis! Shame!)” – and threatened the media (me) with violence.

Chilling behaviour

His war talk, neo-Nazi imagery and uniforms, along with paramilitary units like Aquila, Stormvalke, Wenkommando and Ystergarde with their show of force and racist taunting of black bystanders, as well as several aggressive gun demonstrations at the Ventersdorp shooting range, were chilling. Some AWB members were responsible for the deaths of black people during those years.

But often the AWB was an unintended, unhinged farce. At the Klerksdorp Showgrounds in North West province, they proudly introduced their five-man Onderwater Duik Kommando, an underwater diving commando, waddling along in full diving suits, snorkels, flippers and aqualungs, probably to ensure that black people didn’t go into the sea… 

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Then there was the time in Church Square in Pretoria that Terre’Blanche interrupted the sad, droning AWB brass band by galloping around the corner on his black horse, flying low like a tow truck en route to a car accident. Proving that you shouldn’t gallop and drink, Terre’Blanche steered his horse sharply right while he went straight, propelled out of his saddle beard first. He drunkenly hit the cobblestones at my feet. I had to run away and crouch behind a low wall so his vengeful supporters didn’t see me crying with laughter.

Another time, I bumped into an extremely intoxicated Terre’Blanche and his cronies in Pretoria one night after the far right had invaded the capital. Unsteady on his feet, he was the centre of an impromptu street party. I introduced myself because it looked as though he didn’t recognise me at first. But after a few seconds, his eyes narrowed and his voice dropped menacingly a few octaves. “You are the fellow who wrote shit about my commandant!”

He was referring to an article in The Weekly Mail from the week before. Sensing danger, I’d already made my U-turn by the time one of his thuggish sidekicks slurred: “Leader, musht we take him?!” 

Luckily brandy and Coke slows you down, so I never found out if Terre’Blanche said yes. I swiftly disappeared into the night.

Workplace equality

That Elle article gave the Democratic candidates scores out of 10 for their walk-out song choices for the rally. Bernie Sanders’ “on the nose choice” of Power To The People by John Lennon got 8.5 for being a “protest song from back in the day that gets the word ‘revolution’ in there in the first minute”.

Using Mary J Blige’s Work That got Kamala Harris a nine out of 10, because it is a “great strut anthem with the added benefit of leaving room for a shoulder shimmy”.

But it was Elizabeth Warren who scored a justified 11 out of 10 with her choice of Dolly Parton’s working woman’s anthem, 9 to 5, as this candidate is “constantly working”.

The roots of this song go back to 1973. The women’s movement was in full swing in the United States. In Boston, a group of female office workers who were fed up with the way they were being treated in a male-dominated environment decided to fight for fair pay and equal treatment. They started the organisation 9to5 and in doing so, inspired the hit film and chart-topping song of the same name.

Parton, who starred in the 1980 film of the same name with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, wrote 9 to 5 while filming the movie. While the film was a comedy, it and the song exposed gender inequality in the workplace.

Workin’ nine to five
What a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin’ by
It’s all takin’ and no givin’
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it.

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