When Zimbabweans were being attacked and killed in political violence, a little-known South African musician was inspired to act by the stories she heard from refugees living illegally in South Africa.
Johanna Booysen of the Black Rose African Jazz Orchestra was particularly angered when she heard about a Zimbabwean who died outside an office of South Africa’s home affairs ministry, which handles refugees.
She couldn’t understand how this was “allowed” to happen. “Politicians and everybody were folding their hands and allowing everything to deteriorate,” she said.
So she wrote a protest song. Over just a few days, she composed a reggae tune and wrote the lyrics of “Slow Boat to China.” The idea stemmed from the appearance of reggae legend Bob Marley at Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations in 1980.
The title has two meanings. The first refers to a Chinese arms shipment to Zimbabwe which South African civil society organisations managed to block before it was offloaded at a South African port.
“Slow Boat to China is pointing out to [President Robert Mugabe] that getting a shipload of weapons isn’t the best way to resolve conflict in your country,” says Booysen. “I was happy that the Durban harbour wouldn’t offload the weapons.”
The second meaning of the title derives from the slang name of a cannabis cigarette – a “slow boat”. Booysen says the song also tells Mugabe to relax and to not take himself so seriously, and also that he shouldn’t destroy his own country and kill his own people.
Booysen says the second verse of the song — “If you love them let them speak their mind” — refers to last year’s elections: “Show your love by accepting the outcome of the election. [South African leader] Thabo Mbeki was a good example. He was removed [as president] and he accepted it. He didn’t incite people to violence.”
References to Moses and Pharaoh invite Mugabe to choose to be a liberator, not an oppressor. And a word play on the the bible verse, “there’s a time to reap, a time to sow” suggests that “there was a time for him, to liberate his country,” explains Booysen. “There was a time for him to lead them and to rule but maybe his time has come to step down. This thing of president for life doesn’t work.”
In the song, children appeal in a chorus to “Uncle Bob” not to be an obstacle to democracy; addressing him as “uncle” is a sign of respect, she says: “I respect Robert Mugabe for the positive things that he did… I don’t see him as an enemy.”
Slow boat to China lyrics [Listen to the song here]
There`s an old saying, and it goes like this:
“If you love something, set it free”
If you love it, let it be
You`ll want it to exist, happily
If you love them let them speak their mind
If you let them you will find
Its not as dark as you think it would be
They just want to live in peace, and harmony
Uncle Bob, if you asked me
My advice to you would be:
“Take a slow boat to China
And walk along the Chinese wall”
Every leader leaves a legacy
What is happening is plain to see
Rather a Moses than a Faroa be
Let yours be, that you set them free
The Preacherman in the Big Book says
“There`s a time to reap, a time to sow”
A time to cut, a time to grow
A wise man knows when its time to go
Original article can be found here.