Whites are ‘the new blacks’ at filmfest

2010-10-02 12:58

The representation of the Afrikaner and what it means to be Afrikaans-speaking in South Africa today is a debate unlikely to lose steam any time soon.

Whenever something “Afrikaans noveau” hits the headlines, ­professional trendspotters and analysts have been quick to label them as a sign of a new Afrikaner “cultural resurgence”.

As they did when Cape Town ­hip-hop outfit Die Antwoord burst onto the scene two years ago.

Instead of it being just the arrival of a hot new band, the onion was peeled a further layer for insights into what this meant for Afrikaner pride.

The same happened during the controversy over Bok van Blerk’s De la Rey song back in 2006 which, though igniting a debate over Afrikaner identity in contemporary South Africa, eventually lost its fizz.

From the controversial staging of the Boer historical epic Ons vir Jou at Pretoria’s State Theatre back in 2008, to the picture of President Jacob Zuma shaking hands with AfriForum leaders, much has been made of the so-called reassertion of Afrikaner culture, pride and identity in post-apartheid South Africa.

At least as this relates to Afrikaans-speaking South Africans of a paler hue, one guesses, since being proud to converse (and curse) in Die Taal never really left the rougher, gap-toothed streets of Cape Town.

Although conservative commentators in the Afrikaans press have insinuated to the contrary, Afrikaans as a language is far from dying but is riding something of a popular wave thanks to the likes of Jack Parow, the aforementioned Die Antwoord and Radio Kalahari Orkes.
 
The latter’s pre-World Cup hit, infused with patriotism, bikinis, some sizzling wors and equally sizzling lyrics, urged South Africans to “blaas jou vuvuzela! Doen dit vir Mandela” (Blow your vuvuzela. Do it for Mandela).

Die Antwoord’s white trash, so-called “zef” image has been such a successful export they signed a multimillion-dollar record deal with a major US label earlier this year.

But like the safari suit and comb-in-socks stereotype of yore, Waddy and his potty-mouthed sidekick Yolandi are hardly “representative” of all that is Afrikaner in South Africa today.

Nor, though, was the sight of the manne downing quarts at Soweto shebeens during the Blue Bulls ­extravaganza a few months back.

Long suffering under the yoke of stereotypes, the Afrikaner in Soweto was seen as “new”, rehabilitated and non-racial. Cuddly even.

Not everyone agrees with the notion that Afrikaners have to explain themselves to the world’s media, or present themselves as rehabilitated in order to be accepted in South African society, as three recently-produced documentaries show.

Questioning Afrikaner identity, with all its facets, may be found in snippets from these films opening at the Three Continents Film ­Festival this weekend.

With the exception of the rockumentary Afrikaaps, the issues are confined to the life stories of white Afrikaans-speakers.

What it means to be classified black or coloured and have Afrikaans as a mother tongue is little explored territory beyond the occasional insert on the television ­lifestyle shows.
 
Afrikaaps, directed by Dylan Valley, perhaps more than the others, takes his subject beyond the angst-ridden interview, tracing the history of the language, a story hitherto confined to the dusty folders of the country’s Africana libraries.

And, not surprisingly for those with an even brief knowledge of the language’s history, it ­directly links the development of Afrikaans to the slaves at the Cape of Good Hope.

According to the publicity flyer, Afrikaaps aims to “liberate Afrikaans from its reputation as the language of the oppressor, taking the language back for all who speak it”.

White as Blood is from the locally well-established homecoming genre – taking the director Hanli Prinsloo from life in Sweden to her parent’s farm near Cullinan.

Between the dramatic opening music and the long tracking shots, the director’s voice intones: “I never wanted to be an ­Afrikaner, a daughter of the system.”

Her grandfather, we learn, was a staunch supporter of apartheid and a member of the Broederbond. Not only is the director ashamed, but needs to atone.

Her long walks through on her parents’ farm are cut with black and white clips of an assortment of apartheid stalwarts.

In a move that would pique Dan Roodt’s (a conservative Afrikaans commentator) bile the film takes Prinsloo from former domestic helpers to retired farm hands, where she apologises to them and asks for advice on how she can ease her guilt at ­being white.

Ultimately, it is the latter end of the documentary that is most interesting, when the director discovers a land claim has been lodged on the farm she and her sister stand to inherit when her parents die.

Afrikaner, Afrikaan tries to get at the ­Afrikaans cultural pride movement, if such a thing exists.

It nearly achieves this, save for the soapbox afforded to ­controversial and colourful Afrikaans commentator Deon Maas.

Throughout the film, he gets to have a go at everyone, from the leaders of Afri­Forum’s youth wing, to the writer of Van Blerk’s De la Rey song.

Maas is early on defined as the character in the story, and the struggle to assert Afrikaner identity is mediated through Maas’s own, sometimes hyper-sensitive prism.

And so the agenda is set: this is a white minority culture based on white supremacy and needs to be transformed. Many of the other characters often do not get to speak for themselves.

If they do, they are soon shouted down by Maas.

A Pretoria-based musician features near the end of the film.

He has written a song called Vok Tshwane (F*ck Tshwane) in protest against the government’s proposed name-change of Pretoria.

With many in all races more than a little fed up at the millions of rands wasted in extravagant expenditure like name changes, we should have heard a little more from him.

»The Three Continents Film Festival opens this weekend. www.3continentsfestival.co.za


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