OPINION | Joe Kitchen: The braaibroodjie imperative and lost opportunities for nation-building

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The writer argues that many opportunities for nation-building have been lost. (iStock)
The writer argues that many opportunities for nation-building have been lost. (iStock)

Joe Kitchen reflects on all the lost opportunities for nation-building that have been squandered. he writes that first it was the Nationalists who tried to elevate their white Afrikaans identity to some god-like status, while the ANC sent the country in the opposite direction.

Someone asked me the other day what it felt to be an Afrikaner in present-day South Africa.

The question confused me. I have often tried to analyse my feelings about living in South Africa in these trying times, but it has never occurred to me to connect these feelings specifically to being Afrikaans. Being asked a question like that felt like being asked what it felt like to be a bald person in Cape Town. The one thing had nothing to do with the other.

"What do you mean?" I asked, mystified.

"Well, you know, you guys used to be in control, and now you've lost all that power," the person continued. 

Being an Afrikaner no longer means you get preferential treatment.

This was where I started to feel slightly agitated. "In the first place, I may be an Afrikaner, but that's your choice of words, not mine. I simply consider myself an Afrikaans-speaking South African. And I never had any power in the old South Africa. In fact, I hated my own life in the old South Africa. That's why my friends and I rebelled against apartheid in the late eighties."

This awkward and rather unpleasant conversation made me think. Something about the assumptions this person had made about me nagged at me. I felt stereotyped and did not enjoy feeling that way.

So, for a few days, I walked around, trying to think about this. Leaving the awkward and old-fashioned etiquette "Afrikaner" aside for the moment, how DOES it feel to be Afrikaans in this day and age?

The end of nationalism? 

It has been said by various people - and I think something to that effect was also said by Thabo Mbeki recently - that we are approaching the end of a seventy-year period of nationalism in this country. First the white nationalism of the two Botha's, and then the black nationalism of the ANC. What will come next? If nationalism no longer works – and clearly, it does not – what should replace it?

READ | Mpumelelo Mkhabela: South Africa is open for narrow nationalism to take hold

Though I dearly love Afrikaans, I have never been one of the so-called taalbulle (advocate) crowd who are so hell-bent on preserving Afrikaans education in schools and universities. There is a kind of paradox here. I love Afrikaans, but I have never been paranoid about Afrikaans sharing a space with English and other languages in our schools and on our campuses. After all, education is more important than one particular culture, and we are a multicultural country, so why be selfish?

If you ask me what my favourite Afrikaans word was, I'd probably choose something ridiculously simple. 

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Such as braaibroodjie. A braaibroodjie, for those of you who don't know, is a sandwich, mostly with cheese and tomato, which had been grilled over the hot coals of an open fire. Braaibroodjies or mieliepap are an essential part of any South African braai. Though I love both, I probably prefer braaibroodjies because a braaibroodjie usually tastes even better the next day. In fact, I think my second favourite Afrikaans word after braaibroodjie would probably be oorskiet-braaibroodjie, which means leftover braaibroodjie.

I can say that word over and over again. I just love the sound of it. Braaibroodjie. Braaibroodjie. Braaibroodjie. 

If only life could always be that simple.

Lost opportunities 

It is with great sadness that I think back of all the golden opportunities for nation-building that have been squandered during the last seventy years. First, it was the Nationalists who tried to elevate their white Afrikaans identity to some god-like status.

Then came the ANC, with their ideological baggage and their clumsy, passive rhetoric, and they sent us to hell in the opposite direction.

I have often thought that if the ANC really wanted to irritate white people and make them squirm, all they had to do was conduct the national dialogue in isiXhosa or isiZulu. Without suppressing or banning Afrikaans or English, they could have simply ignored these two dominant languages by making all their speeches and holding all their press conferences in one of the other official languages . This would have really caused havoc with the entrenched narratives and white-owned media.

READ | Siya Khumalo: Ramaphosa and the ANC's abuse of B-BBEE, land reform, gun control and lockdown rules

Everyone would have fallen over their feet to get hold of speedy translators. We would have been forced to take crash-courses in all these languages. Us white people, and I mean all white people, liberals included, would have been turned into strangers in our own country overnight. And the ANC would have gotten their revenge; without resorting to silly utopian idealism or paint-by-numbers quota systems where they count the numbers of black and white pupils in every school!

Cart before horse system

Which brings me to a question: if the Afrikaners had perhaps been guilty of being over-protective of their language and their cultures, why did the ANC seem to have gone to the opposite extreme. Had they had more pride in their own heritage, they would have done more to promote indigenous cultures in schools and universities.

Instead, they opted for the language of the colonialists, English, as the general lingua franca – a practical choice, I suppose, but didn't they perhaps miss something here? Moreover, instead of pursuing black excellence by improving the educational system, sending more and more competent blacks to compete as equals in the free market system, they felt compelled to try and push through a hopelessly roundabout, cart-before-the-horse system of blatantly racist and superficial "black empowerment".

That certainly would have been more meaningful than the mere token targeting of a few old statues.

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So many missed opportunities. So many pragmatic shortcuts not seen, not noticed.

I have a dream. 

I dream of a country where half the people are not unemployed. 

I dream of a country in which everyone has access to employment on the basis of merit.

In short, I dream of a country where everyone can eat their own braaibroodjies.

- Joe Kitchen is a South African musician, singer, songwriter and writer who sometimes goes by the name of Koos Kombuis, André Letoit and/or André le Roux du Toit.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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