Afrikaans can actually remain a powerhouse!

2013-09-17 10:17

A powerhouse is simply ‘something or someone of great energy, strength and power.’ I particularly like the ‘energy’ part.

Many people are perhaps unaware of the fact that the Dutch were a leading trading nation a few centuries ago. ‘There is a period ‘known as the ‘Dutch Golden Age’ spanning roughly the 17th century in which the Dutch trade, science, military and art were among the most acclaimed in the world.

In 1602 the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie was founded. It was the first ever multinational corporation, financed by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. This company received a Dutch monopoly on Asian trade and would keep this for two centuries. It became the world’s largest commercial enterprise of the 17th century. Spices were imported bulk and brought huge profits due to the efforts and risks involved and seemingly insatiable demand. To finance the growing trade within the region, the Bank of Amsterdam was established in 1609, the precursor to, if not the first true central bank. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Dutch were arguably the most economically wealthy and scientifically advanced of all European nations, which put them in a privileged position to transfer Western knowledge’

Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in 1652 in what is today Cape Town thus brought the culture, science, trade, art, architecture as well as the language here. But what does Afrikaans have to do with Dutch? Well, as most of us should know ‘Afrikaans is an offshoot of several Dutch dialects spoken mainly by Dutch settlers of what is now South Africa, where it gradually began to develop independently. Hence historically it is a daughter language and was previously referred to as Cape Dutch. Although Afrikaans adopted words from languages such as Malay, Portuguese, African languages and Khoisan more than 90% of the vocabulary is ultimately of Dutch origin. There is a large degree of mutual intelligibility between the two languages, especially in written form.’ (Source: Wikipedia)

Afrikaans then is a language that developed spontaneously here as people needed to communicate with each other. So if you are South African, in my opinion, then Afrikaans is irrevocably part of you. It’s yours.

As a first language it is spoken by the 3rd highest number (6.85 million) of people in South Africa. Only the Zulu and Xhosa languages have more. Interestingly 61% of white people in the country have Afrikaans as a first language; only 36% of whites have English as a first language. And more than 600,000 African people indicated in the Census 2011 that Afrikaans is their first language.

Language connects people. I remember having a conversation with a Japanese man a few months ago. He speaks a little bit of English, so from that point we had little to work with. But guess what? We understood each other. We would table a topic and then navigate our way through it. Admittedly it took a bit longer, but without exception we got to where we needed to. In this case English connected us.

I really believe that South Africa is a country with many opportunities. If you want to make a success of a particular venture, you can do it here. I’m not suggesting it is easy but despite all our problems, you can achieve with hard work and tenacity. Instead of trying to take away, we should embrace and add to the South African mix. Some may feel that we need to delete Afrikaans. Not sure how that will be achieved but we should hold on here for just one moment. Others may want to continue to see Afrikaans as the ‘language of the oppressor.’ But is this fair to Afrikaans as a language? As an instrument of communication it has to be seen as neutral. It was not the language that oppressed others’ ambitions. Afrikaans to my mind was (also) a victim in the past and now needs to be unshackled. Do we blame the victim of a crime? Do we continue to say: but why were you there at that moment? I don’t think so.

See we could be among the best in the world in managing and harnessing diversity. We have that opportunity, but do we want to see it that way? I believe we can make our country an economic success by being more connected. Afrikaans is (already) spoken by a very diverse group of people. It’s an opportunity; I think we should take it!

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