Introducing farm band, Plassmoord

You won’t find the agricultural district of Koedoesrand on many maps, and the folks who live and farm there like it that way. Sean Christie chanced upon a Koedoesrand garage band consisting of brothers (and farmers), Will (31) and Chris Coetsee (33), and documentary cameraman-cum-farmer Gideon Swart (47). They explain why they called the band ‘Plaasmoord’.

Introducing farm band, Plassmoord
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As far as band names go, Plaasmoord is as controversial as anything else going. How did you decide on the name?
Will Coetsee (WC):
We’re all full-time farmers, and because we wanted a creative outlet, and share an interest in music, we toyed with the idea of a band in December 2010. It began with a love of music first and foremost. Chris came up with the name after neighbours who had moved away were murdered on their new farm near Vivo.

We wanted to address the untenable farm violence with a name that would compel people to talk about the topic, but if you call yourself ‘the-band-that-wants-to-talk-about-serious-issues’, nobody’s going to listen, are they? Call yourself Plaasmoord, on the other hand, and people sit up and take notice, because it’s the Afrikaans word that you’re never really allowed to say, it’s a real taboo.

It certainly is provocative. What kind of response have you had?
Chris Coetsee (CC):
We anticipated an outcry, but have experienced the opposite.

Gideon Swart (GS): Here in the bush we get more flak for braaing with charcoal than for calling the band Plaasmoord. The people in Koedoesrand are hardegat but they accept us because they deal with rural safety issues daily; it’s a big reality for them. In South Africa there are a lot of issues being ignored: Zimbabwe, rural violence and so forth, so Plaasmoord is our attempt at keeping people talking. That said, we put the emphasis on the musical side rather than on politics.

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WC: We’ve had the most negative response from people in Johannesburg and Pretoria, and it’s almost like a transposed type of guilt– in the cities it seems people feel guilty about not knowing or doing anything about the issue, so they deem our rather blunt approach to be in bad taste.

Some guys at MK, the music channel, were very negative. In Pretoria someone told my girlfriend that we’re just trying to be the next Fokofpolisiekar. We responded by saying we’ll call ourselves Plaasmoord until the issue is talked about and addressed. Once that happens we’ll call ourselves something else.

CC: Like ‘The Julius Malemas’.

WC: Or ‘Plan B’.

Do all your songs tackle rural issues?
We’ve got two songs about farm murders, one called Plaasmoord, which tells the story of how our neighbours moved to the bush to get away from the city, started a family, started farming, only to be brutally murdered. Naturally we condemn the violence, but we ask ‘what do we need to do to get out of this cycle?’

We say it is imperative that farmers drop the laager mentality, and stop thinking in terms of ‘the Vierkleur’ (old South African flag), or the AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging) insignia. We have to start communicating across racial lines. We also have a song that looks at farm murder from different perspectives – it has a part in English, a part in Zulu, and a part in Afrikaans.

CC: The one thing we’re not is a bunch of guys claiming the issue of farm murders constitutes a white genocide, or a case of everyone against the Afrikaner. It’s something that affects everyone living in the countryside, that’s the message we want to convey. The family we write about, they were tortured, tied up with barbed wire, finger- and toenails pulled out and so forth. That has to stop.

At the same time you mentioned that the family affected were racist?
Here you have many people who are racist and many who treat farm workers really badly, and that’s obviously a major problem, but nothing justifies torture and murder, and so there needs to be broad acknowledgment that both sides are wrong.

CC: So long as two communities see each other in terms of the stereotypes that they perpetuate, there’s going to be no resolution. That’s essentially the problem, if we continue to perpetuate stereotypes there’s no solving any of the social, economic or political problems in the rural areas, all we do is go three steps back, and we’d like to address this through our music.

What solutions do you propose?
Certainly not that everyone start holding hands and pretend that we don’t have a past. Recently I recorded an episode of a TV travelogue called Voetspore in Rwanda, a country trying to overcome genocide perpetrated by one ethnic group against another.
I took two lessons from my time there – one, that the international community stood by while people were being massacred, precisely because not enough people were putting the issue in the public domain.

Two, you can’t put a bandage on certain wounds. President Paul Kagame’s tactic was to say “there are no more Hutu, no more Tutsi, we’re all Rwandans”. Many Rwandans I spoke to are not comfortable with this verbal unification, as the memories are simply too raw.

WC: By the same token, ‘anti-racism’ messaging at rugby games and other events simply doesn’t wash with much of the crowd. Our idea is simply to lay bare reality as we see it, in people’s faces, both sides. We say the spectre of farm murders is horrible and needs to be addressed, and we also say the old mentality of right-wing Afrikaners treating people the way they want needs to be addressed.

Are you reaching out to black communities?
Musically that’s problematic, because we sing mostly in Afrikaans, but in terms of discussing and relating our problems to black communities, yes, definitely. We have a strong security forum in the area, and we have a good relationship with the community across the river, in what used to be called the tribal trust lands. We do a lot of social development there, and it contributes to a strong sense of community.

How does farming interfere with your band practise schedule?
GS (sarcastically):

CC: It’s a positive relationship between the two though, because there’s nothing better than ending up here in this garage on a Wednesday evening and breaking away from the sheep, goats, and tomatoes, or whatever constitutes the daily routine. Friends come add a lot of perspective.

That’s part of the problem with issues such as rural violence – farming is so all-consuming and few farmers have any creative outlet through which they can express and work through tensions. They get up in the morning and go to bed only thinking about the strains and stresses, and that affects the way they interact with people.

Contact Will Coetsee on 071 925 5870 or email [email protected]