For some strange reason, many born-and-bred Afrikaners refuse to speak their mother tongue.
They seem to be ashamed to admit that they are Afrikaans and will foist their atrocious English on me. When I hear from their broad accent and terrible grammar that they are obviously Afrikaans and when I answer them in Afrikaans, they stubbornly insist on blithely carrying on murdering the English language.
The most rediculous actions of some Afrikaners are the ways in which they anglicise their surnames. Van der Bijl becomes Vendebaail, van der Merwe becomes vendemurvie, Oosthuizen becomes Oohsthouzen,Groenewald becomes Ghroohneewalled.
One of my dear departed Afrikaans friends' son once referred to his dad as a Dutchie in my presence. Of course his dad wasn't present, because if he had been, he probably would have thrashed him to within an inch of his life. I had to restrain myself from braining the little bastard. There are some young people who refer to Afrikaners as 'rocks' (short for rock spiders) 'hairy backs', 'Dutchies' or 'Boere'. Many of these uncouth youths are themselves three-quarters Afrikaans or even Dutch, but because maybe one of their grandparents was English, they claim English as their birthright and feel free to denigrate the Afrikaners.
My grandmother Anna was thrown into a concentration camp by the English forces, probably because she helped the rebels. She never forgave them and was, until her death in 1946, fiercely proud of being an Afrikaner.
She once took me as a nine-year old to the famous tea room on the top floor of the now deceased Greenacres store in Durban. The young snooty English-speaking waitress asked us for our order. My grandmother, to my embarrassment, told her: “Twee koppies tee asseblief!” (Two cups of tea please) With a sniff and a flounce the young waitress marched off to the kitchen with our order. I said, sotto voce, “Ouma sy’s Engels! Ouma moet Engels met haar praat!” (Ouma she’s English, you should speak English to her!) She looked at me fiercely and said in a loud voice that could be heard all over the tea room, “Gerrit! Jy moet nooit as te nimmer skaam wees vir jou taal nie!” (Gerrit, you must never ever be ashamed of your language!) I have never forgotten that injunction and I can honestly say that since that day I have tried to live up to my Ouma’s words.
I’ve been told that I have no discernible Afrikaans accent when I speak in English - probably because I matriculated at Gill College in Somerset East, which thankfully was a dual medium school and studied at Onderstepoort veterinary school, where most of the lectures were presented in both official (at the time) languages.
I sometimes used my posh English accent to good effect. I estimate that I hitch-hiked about 50000 kilometres during my time at school and university. On one of my journeys I was picked up by an English speaking South African who, taking me for a fellow Englishman, promptly began speaking about the ‘bloody stupid Afrikaners’. He regaled me with stories to prove to me how stupid the ‘boors’ were. I listened in silence to his long diatribe until we reached the end of our journey together. I then turned to him with my right hand outstretched and said in my poshest English accent, “My dear chap, we haven’t been properly introduced!’ I then switched to fluent Afrikaans, “My naam is Gerrit Retief!”
His mouth fell open, his face turned a remarkable shade of red and he mumbled his name. After 55 years I still remember the warm fuzzy feeling I got when I saw the consternation spreading on his stupid face.
So why is it that so many Afrikaners are ashamed of their language and heritage? Is it perhaps because throughout their lives they have heard derogatory remarks about the 'Dutchies' 'the rock spiders' and the 'boors'? Or perhaps it is because of some of the stupid policies of our erstwhile government? Instead of making them even more proudly Afrikaans, they capitulate and become ashamed. They forget that it was a de Klerk that released Mandela at huge risk to his political career. They ignore the Anton Ruperts, Ernie Elses, the many magnificent poets, writers, opera singers, pianists, sportsmen and women and scientists who were and are proud Afrikaners.
There is no doubt that the behaviour of some Afrikaners makes me cringe sometimes.Is this enough reason to deny my language and heritage? If that be so, then every decent Englishman should renounce his English heritage and language because of the yobbos infesting the London underground after every soccer match. In fact, if I were an Englishman, I would seriously hide the fact that I was English after what happened at the Oval this last weekend.
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