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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling party on Tuesday defended the singing of an apartheid-era song with the words "Kill the Boer" in a row that has raised fears of increasing racial polarisation.
The African National Congress dismissed a ruling by a regional high court last week that uttering or publishing the words would amount to hate speech and violate the constitution put in place after the end of white minority rule.
"These songs cannot be regarded as hate speech or unconstitutional," ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told a news conference. "Any judgment that describes them as such is impractical and unimplementable."
The recent singing of the song by firebrand ANC youth wing leader Julius Malema, who argues that black South Africans have not benefited enough from 16 years of democracy, drew anger from whites and other minority groups.
The lyrics of the song, sung in Zulu, translate as "kill the farmer, kill the Boer", referring to the former ruling white minority.
"Most people realise that this is a struggle song but many whites cannot help but feel that they are being targeted," said Marius Roodt a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations.
"The ANC needs to be sympathetic to the feelings of minorities especially if there is a perception created that they endorse inflammatory statements.
President Jacob Zuma has repeatedly stressed the importance of reconciliation in what became known as the "Rainbow Nation" after the relatively peaceful transition from apartheid.
But the controversy over the lyrics puts the ANC in a difficult position both because of the historic importance of the struggle for South Africa's majority and Malema's popularity.
Mantashe said the song was only a means of ensuring South African history was remembered and not meant as an incitement to violence against whites -- who make up about a tenth of South Africa's 50 million population.
The fact that most whites are still far more prosperous than most blacks angers many black South Africans, who feel they have not enjoyed the benefits they expected from ANC rule since 1994.
But Zuma, visiting a shanty town for poor whites outside Pretoria on Tuesday, stressed the importance of South Africans living together.
"We are a government that is committed to all South Africans, regardless of colour, race or creed," Zuma told the group, part of an estimated 450,000 white South Africans who are estimated to be living in poverty.