Hey, BBC Future! England made the South African bed, but now refuses to sleep in it?

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Frederik van Dyk (picture provided by the author)

As a South African and native Afrikaans speaker, I was stunned to read a BBC Future article by journalist Alex Rawlings titled “Is Afrikaans in danger of dying out?”.

I wasn’t taken aback because the article is yet another piece on South Africa by another foreign journalist who thinks they can plot out the nation’s strife in all finality, in the same way that Britain and Europe’s colonialists “divided up” the immensity of Africa with a few strokes of ink during the Berlin Conference of 1884. What irked me and those other Afrikaans-speaking South Africans who took time to read the article, was the sheer superficiality of the research done and the conclusions drawn. If the writer had simply taken the time to read up properly on the existent debates, initiatives, arts, music, culture and many other Afrikaans innovations since 1994, he would probably have steered away from describing to his readers an Afrikaans language devoid of any creativity, inclusivity or adaptation. He could have visited authoritative bilingual websites such as LitNet, or, seeing that he is such a renowned polyglot, at least have asked for help to understand the nature of the content on the various dynamic Afrikaans websites, including Vrye Weekblad,  Klyntji and Maroela Media.

Yet, we all sighed. Yet another piece of “this one’s not about Britain”-laced prose with an astounding air of Anglo-British superiority, describing the failures of Afrikaans as a language community – a group the writer conceives of as consisting primarily of provincial white Afrikaners confined to rural spaces strewn all over the country, incidentally the last places where the British public saw Afrikaans speakers en masse – in 1901, under Kitchener’s brutal “scorched earth” Boer War policy. (But we shouldn’t pity ourselves; the Welsh community drew full-on undue abuse by Brexiteer and BBC man Noel Edmonds, who victim-blamed the Welsh language for being under threat. As if the English community has no part in the slow violence on that neighbouring language group.) Your apparent understanding that Afrikaans is “primarily” a white thing is badly qualified by a passage which casts a numerical bone to brown or “coloured” Afrikaans speakers, depicting them patronisingly as the disenfranchised majority of Afrikaans speakers, without any language agency of their own, who somehow need the intervention of the liberal white-skinned section of Afrikaans to get a chance at cultural life.

A related paragraph asserts that one of Afrikaans’s biggest issues is the community’s supposed clinging onto a suiwer (“pure”) versus a kombuis (“kitchen”) version of the language, which also reflects the schism between the white and brown versions of the language. If the writer had done his research properly, he would note that a debate over “pure” versus “kitchen” Afrikaans is not as simple as he attempts to relate, and that it is old hat in any event. This debate has long since evolved into proactive cooperation by many creative Afrikaans organisations to conceptualise an “Afrikaans tree”, containing a number of regional varieties of the language. For a long time now, the impetus has been towards a diversified Afrikaans language community. People invest their energy into this exercise on a daily basis. The conversation has thus moved on, and telling the world otherwise is inconsiderate, inaccurate and downright lazy.

Brown and white Afrikaans speakers are working together actively in cultural organisations and initiatives to prepare a shared Afrikaans future for our children, despite a lack of political will for multilingualism in general. All the ethnic groups who share in the language have delivered individuals who have pushed the creative limits of the language year after year. We still grapple with questions on race-based privilege, structural racism and historical trauma, but we are making determined progress. We are strong, alive and healthy, thank you.

And I am now done justifying Afrikaans to a British news agency. As we say in Afrikaans, this brings me to the drol in die drinkwater (the “turd in the drinking water”) – the real issue that highlights the irony of Rawlings’s article to us Afrikaans speakers – which is that English language hegemony in South Africa has been thriving in the Cape provinces and KwaZulu-Natal since the early 19th century, and in the rest of the country since the end of the Boer War in 1902.

The same English language that the BBC prizes so much, that you contrast with Afrikaans by deploying an air of subtle moral superiority when you speak of Afrikaans’s role in higher education, is the one which continues to be our government’s all-time favourite, despite ten other indigenous languages being present in South Africa. Much like the “standard version” of Afrikaans, which was forced onto black South Africans during apartheid, your English language is a colonial vestige which has been forced onto South Africans over the years as the “standard” and “norm” of civility, progress and superiority.

And, while Afrikaans was deployed as an instrument of oppression during apartheid, the role of the English language community in enforcing colonial values and attempting to “civilise” black Africans, Afrikaners and brown South Africans largely disappeared from the public spotlight. This is despite English being co-official with Afrikaans and despite apartheid’s function as a white privilege machine for English whites as well. While Afrikaans had its worst moment, some from within your language community could silently creep away from their colonial offices to join the anti-apartheid protests and pretend nothing was amiss.

To this day, when members of the Afrikaans language community merely ask for due constitutional recognition on higher education level and in public life, all we get is accusations (in English!) of racism, backwardness and attempting to rehegemonise the country. The selective morality and language privilege which this attitude farts so profusely is staggering. Moreover, it is completely at odds with South Africans’ choice of a free, democratic and multicultural society where we should work towards giving every language community their place under the sun. None of this nuance and history features in your article. There is no mention of our country’s greater language dynamics or colonial history. Instead, another foreign writer decided to use mainly a very small sociopolitical section of the Afrikaners, namely the Orania Movement, to illustrate the language politics of an entire people.

And, as mentioned, he chose to describe brown Afrikaans speakers as a completely ignored and essentially vulnerable group who need cultural intervention, a construction which totally disregards the massive self-owning strides in Afrikaans made by brown Afrikaans speakers such as poet Adam Small, business leader Christo van der Rheede and the Afrikaans pop stars Hemelbesem, Die Hooflig and Early B, to name but a few.

How your writer then gets to the conclusion, as voiced in the title – that the language may be under threat of extinction – is wholly unclear. If the language is under threat, then so are all other South African languages. Such an existential threat would be due to our government’s support of that accident of history which is the cold, patronising, global hegemony of the English language and its role in Anglo-Saxon capitalism, not to mention its colonial mark in South Africa.

The native speakers themselves cannot be blamed if their language and identities are being played in a globalist, profiteering, English-speaking slot machine. As we say in Afrikaans: Gaan steek jy eers hand in eie boesem. Translatable as: before you discuss other people’s shortcomings, first take a long hard look at yourself.

Groete/Regards

Frederik R Van Dyk

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Kommentaar

  • Avatar
    Chris Potgieter

    Ag wat, dis nie my tyd werd om met dof kinders te probeer praat nie. Die Engelse oor die algemeen besef nie eers dat ons Afrikaners besig is om hul land oor te neem omdat ons hul taal vlot kan praat nie.

  • Wel gestel. Mag meer jong Afrikaners hul rue styftrek teen die onderskatting en gepoogde onderwerping van Afrikaans as volwaardige akademiese, letterkundige, wetenskaps- en gebruikstaal, sodat Afrikaanssprekendes nie futloos die tuig sal neerle nie.

  • Avatar
    Salomé Malherbe

    Uitstekend want jy is nie bang om die dubbelgevreet van Englse skeinheiligheid uit te wys nie. Baie van ons loop daagliks met die besef van net hòe erg die vernietigende mag van die Engelse taal is. Ek noem dit sommer wat dit is ’n “WMD” [weapon of mass destruction] gewetenloos arrogant en meedoënloos. Maar Latyn was eens so ’n wêreldtaal en nou dood. Mens moet maar versigtig wees om David uit te tart as jy Goliat is. Tuis verstom dieselfde voortgesette arrogansie of gemaak nederige skaamheid van die Engelssprekende gemeenskap om hulself tot die wonderlik bevrydende status van TWEETALIGHEID te verhef deur hul weiering om Afrikaans te praat.
    Ag shame né.
    Gelukkig is ons nie almal so kleinlik nie.
    Veg voort stryders van die taal, want wat ons nie doodmaak nie maak ons sterker. Jubel en juig. Dis al.

  • Baie goed gestel. Ek het self die artikel op die dag van publikasie gelees en het my behoorlik vervies. Dankie vir jou repliek!

  • Avatar
    George Pieter Redelinghuys

    Beste Frederik
    Veel meer beledigend vir die Afrikaner “image” as Alex Rawlings se redelike artikel oor die toekoms van Afrikaans in Suid-Afrika, is daardie eerste groteske foto van ’n groep mense uitgedek in “traditionele drag”, oorgewig, slordig beklede mans met wilde baarde, en vrouens met gewere wat blykbaar ook kan skiet! Al wat die foto nog kort is the sambokswepe in die hand van die mans en die groot swart Bybels.
    Beste groete,
    Pieter Redelinghuys

  • Avatar
    Annatjie Beattie

    Knap gedaan. Hier in die Noord-Kaap gedy Afrikaans op voetsoolvlak in 'n rykdom van variasie te danke aan die ryk bydrae van ons bruin gemeenskap.

  • Baie goeie skrywe. Ongelukkig word die res van die eilandjie neffens die Franse kus se bewoners nie ook bietjie op hul plek gesit nie. Ek ervaar die Ingelse is gou om in 'n geselskap te sê, I do not speak that language of I can not understand. Ons Afrikaanssprekendes slaan ook gou na Engels oor wanneer daar van hulle in 'n gemengde taalgeselskap is. Ek is egter verby daardie stadium.

  • Avatar
    Johann Basson

    Die beskikbaarheid van moderne multimedia gaan meebring dat die waarheid betreffende die ware motiewe, dryfvere en impak van die Anglo-Sakse Elite se imperialisme, kolonialisme en slawehandel toenemend van onder die mat van historiese geheimhouding uitgevee gaan word vir almal om van kennis te neem.

  • Avatar
    Coenraad Walters

    An eloquent bull’s eye, Frederik! Thank you. The British Empire has got so much to account for, not only in South Africa. Think of India and other countries where their colonial legacy can still be regarded as the “norm”. A problem with writers such as the gentleman you take to task, is that the history curriculum in British schools is apparently extremely limited, and the British role in eg the war in South Africa between 1899 and 1902 is just about completely ignored, especially regarding the scorched earth policy and the concentration camps. No wonder they feel morally and linguistically superior: they don’t realize their own guilt. It could be an interesting topic for a South African student of history, to see how the British period in South Africa is depicted in British history curricula.

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    Gustaf Claassens

    Liefde vir jou eie, respek vir ander en prinsipiële denke maak dat die saak waarin jy glo “vrylik kan asemhaal”.
    Afrikaans is ’n samebindende faktor tussen mense en alhoewel onder beleg, gedryf deur kwaadwilliges, is abdikasie nie op die agenda nie. Nie nou nie en ook nie later nie. Hiervan is Frederik en ’n nuwe geslag jong mense entoesiastie getuies. Hulle het die kulturele wapenuitrusting aan en is gereed om vaandeldraers van ons taal te wees die toekoms in.

  • Avatar
    Hanno Visagie

    Ongelukkig het hierdie andersins leesbare artikelbrief te veel onaanvaarbare linkse politieke gedienstighede, naamlik: “A related paragraph asserts that one of Afrikaans’s biggest issues is the community’s supposed clinging onto a suiwer (“pure”) versus a kombuis (“kitchen”) version of the language, which also reflects the schism between the white and brown versions of the language. If the writer had done his research properly, he would note that a debate over “pure” versus “kitchen” Afrikaans is not as simple as he attempts to relate, and that it is old hat in any event. This debate has long since evolved into proactive cooperation by many creative Afrikaans organisations to conceptualise an “Afrikaans tree”, containing a number of regional varieties of the language. For a long time now, the impetus has been towards a diversified Afrikaans language community. People invest their energy into this exercise on a daily basis. The conversation has thus moved on, and telling the world otherwise is inconsiderate, inaccurate and downright lazy ... Brown and white Afrikaans speakers are working together actively in cultural organisations and initiatives to prepare a shared Afrikaans future for our children, despite a lack of political will for multilingualism in general. All the ethnic groups who share in the language have delivered individuals who have pushed the creative limits of the language year after year. We still grapple with questions on race-based privilege, structural racism and historical trauma, but we are making determined progress ... the “standard version” of Afrikaans, which was forced onto black South Africans during apartheid ... Afrikaans was deployed as an instrument of oppression during apartheid ... South Africans’ choice of a free, democratic and multicultural society ... another foreign writer decided to use mainly a very small sociopolitical section of the Afrikaners, namely the Orania Movement, to illustrate the language politics of an entire people.”

  • Avatar
    Hélène Opperman-Lewis

    Sulke skrywes soos die op BBC is niks anders as gewetenloos en totaal skaamteloos. Mens moet seker jammer voel vir die drommels wat nogsteeds so onkundig is oor Afrikaners.
    Om te beledig is geneties by daai klomp het ek nou finaal besluit - behalwe die enkel uitsonderings. Dis 'n teken van minderwaardigheid as jy heeltyd iemand anders moet boelie en verneder.

  • Frederik, die Engelse is SO, SO jaloers op Afrikaans en haar PRESTASIES, dis net nie waar nie. Die stuk is niks anders as sensasiesoekery deur 'n jaloerse Engelsman, PUNT.

    Ek stik van die lag! Indien ons geliefde onder druk was of *die gevaar geloop het om uit te sterf*, sou webwerwe soos hierdie en nuuswebwerwe soos Maroela Media tog lankal reeds daarmee heen gewees het. Indien Afrikaans nie STERK was nie, sou daar 'n splinternuwe privaat Afrikaanse universiteit (Akademia) soos 'n feniks uit die as uit gerys het?

    Die man praat twak.

  • Indien Afrikaans kwansuis ’n “sterwende” (lmga) taal was; sou ons met die beste Wikipedia-weergawe in Afrika gesit het, waar jy werklik byna (relatief gesproke) enigiets kan opspoor en in Afrikaans kan lees en bestudeer; of ’n Wikipedia wat op die punt staan om 100 000 artikels te bereik? Ek dink nie so nie!
    Ons geliefde het darem baie slaankrag en prestige vir so ’n kleine taaltjie, né? O aarde, moenie dat ek met ons groeiende letterkundige skat begin nie, mnr. Rawlings ...
    Wat ek ironies vind, is dat JM Coetzee in sy outobiografie deur JC Kannemeyer meen dat die letterkundige uitset in SA na die jaar 2000 grotendeels in Engels sou wees (of iets baie naby hieraan, as ek reg onthou). Joh, hoe verkeerd het daardie voorspelling nie uitgedraai nie!
    Dink maar aan “Die derde spoel”, “Die ongelooflike onskuld van Dirkie Verwey”, “Die Dao van Daan van der Walt”, Myburgh se bundel “Uittogboek” wat onlangs die Hertzog-prys verower het, en so kan ek aangaan ... Nee wat, die man weet nie waarvan hy praat nie, en sy artikel is SO on-genuanseerd, ongebalanseerd en sonder insig dat mens maar net die kop kan skud.
    Weereens, ek stik van die lag.

  • Avatar
    Sophia Jaarsma

    Om nie eens te praat van die duisende Afrikaanssprekende, goed opgeleide Suid-Afrikaners wat vlot Engels praat, in Engeland, wat hard werk en die WERK kry, en gerespekteer word daarvoor, in Engeland. Ag nee wat, die Engelsmannetjie moet maar weer gaan nadink.

  • South African English is a language that has evolved to include Afrikaans words and sayings. Sometimes you can just express yourself better that way. I once had a pom criticize me for a small grammatical mistake. I replied: “Now tell me, John, how many languages can you speak?” He never replied.

  • @ Hanno Visagie - wat is jou punt? Brei bietjie uit, jy begin met hoogdrawende woorde net om daar weer stomp te eindig. Gee vir ons konteks en wat jou argument is asb.
    @Alex Rawlings - vat so Ingilsman!

  • Sê so boerseun 'n pommie nou! Ek is egter bevrees dat hy nie die helfte daarvan sal verstaan nie. Sy intellek leen hom daartoe om net vereenvoudigde Engels te verstaan. Well said Fred!!

  • Die Engelsman hierbo se “Is Afrikaans in danger of dying out?” klink vir my na 'n goeie vraag gedagtig aan Trantaal en ander se "Afrikaans".

  • Die behoud van 'n taal al dan nie is nie noodwendig gesetel in die grammatikaal korrektheid daarvan nie. Ons beskik nie almal oor dieselfde intellek nie, maar dit ontken nie ons liefde vir die taal nie. Hoe meer individue en/of groepe poog om die soetste taal te onderdruk en/of te ondermyn hoe sterker word ons taal.

  • Die onlangse verlede het ons geleer hoe groter die aanslae van buite om die bestaansreg van Afrikaans te onderdruk, hoe sterker het ons liefde vir Afrikaans geword, Ondersteuners vanuit onverwagse oorde het toegetree tot die debat. Ek is geensins 'n puris wanneer dit kom by die gebruik van Afrikaans nie, maar dit beteken nie ek is nie lief vir my moedertaal nie! Net so maak gebruikers van inheemse tale gebruik van verskillende dialekte en "slang" en geen een van die tale word bedreig deur uitsterwing nie. Waarom word die Afrikaanse taal en die gebruikers daarvan deurlopend as 'n bedreiging gesien? Bedreiging vir wie? Leef en laat leef. I respect all walks of life irrespective of race, colour or creed. Derhalwe verwag ek as Afrikaanssprekende dieselfde behandeling. Mooi dag.

  • Els, jy sê:
    “Ek is geensins ’n puris wanneer dit kom by die gebruik van Afrikaans nie”. Hoe kan jy beweer dat jy “lief is vir my moedertaal” wanneer jy ’n laissez-fair-houding daarteenoor openbaar?
    En jy sê “I respect all walks of life irrespective of race, colour or creed”. Watter kultuurgroep sê dit oor jou moedertaal?

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