Jou ma se tongue

2005-12-14 12:56

Irish people used to take grim pleasure in claiming that they were the niggers of the UK, and John Lennon, confused feminist that he was, sang that "woman is the nigger of the world". Now it seems that some Afrikaners are taking the same delight in presenting themselves as the newly oppressed of South Africa.

Take some of the responses to the recent furore over Afrikaans being "one of the world's ugliest languages", a claim made by Wallpaper magazine in its September 2005 issue. Some local readers have believed that the claim was made by a certain Bronwyn Davies, a Cape Town fashion stylist, who contributed an Insider's section to Wallpaper's city guide to Cape Town.

As the language insult is a caption to a picture, it's more likely that some twit at Wallpaper put it in, so you should all stop picking on poor Bronwyn. Bronwyn says she lives in Tamboerskloof, "in the happening heart of the city bowl", and she believes that musselcracker is "a local delicacy done best by Codfather Restaurant in Camps Bay".

Now this is something on which we should disagree with her. Bronwyn, the lovely fatty skin is the point of musselcracker, and they don't serve fish with the skin on at the Codfather. I recommend you try Miller's Thumb in Kloof Nek Rd.

And speaking of skin - when I say that some Afrikaners are taking delight in portraying themselves as the newly oppressed of South Africa, it's obviously not as simple as talking about race. Their propensity to think of themselves as becoming like the people that were oppressed under apartheid, is actually about culture.

Another soutie journalist might have written that sentence a little differently, as in: the people that THEY oppressed under apartheid. But I think by now we know that English speakers were also complicit in apartheid so, unlike Wallpaper, I'm not going to take any cheap shots.

The interesting thing about all this, of course, is that the people oppressed under apartheid didn't have the same kind of victim mentality that some Afrikaners are now embracing as their own. Instead of whining on about how they were being picked on, they actually went out there and won the war.

And when I refer to some Afrikaners, I'm talking about people like Dan Roodt, whose ideological thought processes are a miraculous living embodiment of the Taal Monument - grey, brutalist, and utterly lacking in nuance.

Roodt is the head of the Pro-Afrikaanse Aksiegroep (for our overseas readers, that translates roughly as Group Willing to Actively Prostitute Afrikaans, presumably for political ends.)

Apt response

Before we get on to Roodt's response to the Wallpaper insult, let's discuss Johann Rupert's rather more apt response. The billionaire businessman withdrew millions of pounds worth of advertising from the magazine. Ha! Take that you bastards! Voetsek!

Along with many South Africans, I'm right behind Rupert. I was at a party last week, which included among its guests the editors of several of SA's decor magazines, so the Wallpaper gaffe was very much one of the topics of conversation. The hostess, who is the Afrikaans senior decor editor for an English decor magazine (yes, mnr Roodt, English and Afrikaans can work together), articulated the emotion best when she described the pleasure she felt at the fact that a South African has the power to tell a big international magazine to go and stuff itself.

It's a pleasure that most South Africans will share. Because an attack on one of our languages is an attack on all of us, and as South Africans - or even, dare I say it, as Africans - we're sick of our cultures being belittled by a bunch of Europeans who seem to believe that a history of rape, pillage, conquest and cappuccino makes them superior beings.

Dan Roodt's response is, however, not quite as satisfying as Rupert's. In a letter to The Argus, he writes that the Wallpaper insult is indicative of "a kind of cultural cold war brewing in South Africa with a motley alliance of English colonials, Afro-Saxon fanatics and yobbish tourists from that rainy island north of Europe moving in for the kill now that Afrikaans culture is struggling under a hostile pro-English government."

He also writes that, next to Afrikaans, "the increasingly tatty local dialect of English has remained the vehicle of stereotype and pretence". Ag, kak man. Of course there are loads of English-speaking wankers wandering around, but they're the exact kind of wankers - and think about this bit, Dan - who would say something stupid about a language, something like "it's just a kombuis taal". (For our readers who can't speak Afrikaans, "kombuis taal" means something like "tatty local dialect".)

Government language policies

Where I do agree with Roodt (*shudder*), is when he complains about the English-centric nature of government language policies. While it's all very well to have eleven official languages, we all know that means that English becomes the de facto dominant language. It's a war for language supremacy that has occurred on a global battlefield, and I'm afraid we're very bit players in that battle.

But retreating into a laager, pulling your oranje blanje blou blankets over your head, and kvetching about how you're being picked on by everyone, is not the way to ensure that your particular South African culture remains a viable part of the greater whole. The age of the bittereinder is over.

Like many polemicists struggling to come to terms with the modern world, Roodt hauls out a spurious historical reference to add some authority to his maunderings. He writes, "As one old Boer said in the 1880s after Majuba: "I have seen the colour of the English flag, and it is white." Well, as one young Boer said to me last Saturday, "I've seen the colour of the Afrikaans flag, and it sure as hell isn't Roodt."

  • Chris Roper has just reread his column, and noticed that he's managed to offend almost every gender, racial and language grouping possible. Now THAT'S the South African way.

    Send your comments to Chris or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

    See Chris's previous columns in his blog The World

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