Afrikaans is not Entirely African – Time to Rebrand

2015-06-07 16:28

The Dutch people who were meant to be passing by the Cape to replenish voyage supplies decided to establish permanent post in South Africa for merchant ships. In 1652 they established a colony in today's Cape Town. This caused the Table Bay to be the popular stop after Madagascar and the less popular Robben Island. The Table Bay became more popular with expanded plantations up to today's Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden where nuts and other foods were farmed for resale to merchant ships passing by.

The type of people who worked in merchant ships voyages were mostly uneducated folks who exhibited this through language proficiency. The Dutch spoken then was referred to as "kitchen" Dutch. Kitchen, as it were, referred to kitchen workers and other low skilled people. Because of their poor education - usual drunken behavior- the language development was poor and always colored with profanities. Then, it was always easier to notice the educated and upper class, not just from dress but tongue too.

Because of the typical long voyages then, the Dutch people would sail to Malaysia to India and Madagascar before finally reaching the Cape Colony. This "kitchen" Dutch found itself getting the influences from people's in all the stops the ships made, sometimes stopping for long periods or years.

With all these influences, today's Afrikaans which was also referred to as Cape Dutch has up to 95 percent of its vocabulary found in Dutch with some minor influences of Arabic, Portuguese, Khoi and Nguni ways of expression. The essential root remains Dutch and Afrikaans can be seen as a Dutch dialect established after 1652, handed down from sailors who had been passing, shipwrecked or posted off the Cape coast after it became clear that the horn of Africa presented a viable trade route.

The arrival of the French Huguenots in 1688 almost doubled the European population of the Cape Colony. This introduced minor French traditions into Cape Dutch but The language did not lose its essence as a Dutch dialect - three main sub-dialects being, Cape Dutch, Inland or Orange River Dutch and Eastern Border Dutch, all these remain today. You can tell where a person comes from from the Afrikaans they speak.

Just 20 minutes outside Cape Town there is an Afrikaans Language Monument, which was erected in 1975 in Paarl to honor the language, no other language has this honor in South Africa. This monument was a culmination of the work that started in 1875 to get Afrikaans in a written form.

Dutch is linked to settlers. Afrikaans is linked to hateful apartheid. The National Party's election win in 1948, the party introduced measures designed to empower the language and its people it seems as vulnerable and made it equal to English. It morphed into the most important language in the country. To do business you had to know Afrikaans and Afrikaans only clubs, schools, and other societies were established.

The National Party's plan moved to the unforgettable-unforgivable slaughter of Black school children in school uniform who protested across the country against the apartheid injunction to make Afrikaans a language of instruction at all Black schools - this was to entrench Bantu Education Policy of creating Black slaves who can communicate with the master. Afrikaans as a language is blood stained and is capable of invoking deep resentments from Blacks. However in general, Blacks love the language and can speak it with some pride.

Here is the problem however; for Afrikaans to have shine and longevity, for it to reach out to other races it must drop its inherent arrogance as the Africain language as it says it is African. It is not. About 95 per cent of its vocabulary is Dutch and the remainder are influences from all over the Indian Ocean including minor expressions from Nguni people and the Khoi. It's Arabic influence from the Malay people is louder when the Afrikaner use the word "kafir" - an unbeliever or infidel in Arabic language.

For the language to get its "sexy" back, renaming it has to be considered. The renaming that could evolve into rich cultural tourism and Dutch homeland reconnection. Afrikaans as a name confuses many foreigners - my friends in Kenya and America do not get why in 1976 Black children marched against learning in their own African language - Afrikaans. The first question I've been asked many many times over the language is whether I speak Afrikaans if I say yes but as a second language, confusion comes. How can I speak the Africain in second language?

It is time we refer to Afrikaans as "African Dutch" and my children may find international pleasure in learning the language including what I hope could be very interesting tourism avenue. Importantly, the blood stains Afrikaans have, must be buried.

Without this, this wonderful Dutch dialect (Afrikaans) will forever represent apartheid, harm, hurt, dehumanization of people and cruelty.

The Afrikaner gave the National Party free license for ruthless Apartheid rule and the cultural promotion of the language. Apartheid political system and Afrikaans are co-joined on the hip to this day and there is a need to exorcise and bleach the stain for the good of nation building. An overture that says Afrikaans' superiority in name be removed will go a long way to reconciliation and showing contrition feelings over the past.

"African Dutch" must have the same rights as my Swati but must not maintain the African title above true and genuine African indigenous languages. Perhaps it will make sense to promote "African Dutch" schools as we do when we promote German or French language schools in the country.

Here! Let's welcome the rebirth of African Dutch - I cannot wait to update my profile to add, "African Dutch" as one of the languages I know.

Bongani Mbindwane is Radio Host with Ubuntu Radio, a DIRCO product. He is a columnist with Daily Maverick and Contributes with News24 Voices, on twitter @mbindwane

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