South Africa: Afrikaans gets a boost from black ten-year old

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Aug 22 20:14:44 UTC 2007

Afrikaans gets a boost from black ten-year

Beeld last week (15 Aug) covered a fascinating story about a black kid who
won a national debating competition in Afrikaans. The girl, Pretoria based
Thuli Manunga (10), although her mother tongue is Xhosa, speaks Afrikaans
like the best of them and is the winner of the junior division of the
ATKVdebating contest.

This story is emblematic of how the new South Africa is liberating

Sure, I know there are those who perpetuate the myth that Afrikaans is under
threat in Mzansi. They write to connections and well placed people in
countries such as Belgium airing dire warnings that the future of "*die taal
*" is at risk. You can also, for example, read the writings of people like
Steve Hofmeyr who seek to feverishly defend Afrikaans culture and language
against various forces, including an ANC government. The truth is different:
under democracy, Afrikaans can shed its old burdensome associations and face
the future with new confidence.

The way to protect your language is not to retreat into the laager, but to
step out and take your place, in a vital way, in South African social and
cultural life.

The advent of democracy – with its built-in formula of inclusivity and
synthesis rather than conquest and retribution – frees Afrikaans of its
baggage. We can acknowledge that this language, embroiled in unjust
historical processes, was used as a tool to bark some of the meanest and
nastiest instructions. We can ruefully reflect on how Afrikaans coined the
word *bliksem*, a reference to cruel punishment meted out in a context of
skewed power relations. But we can also simultaneously put that behind us.
We can say, taking the present as the vantage point, that Afrikaans is
categorically not the language of the oppressor. It is a proud constituent
of Mzansi's culture; it is entrenched and constitutionally recognized as one
of South Africa's languages. Afrikaans is part of the distinctiveness that
we marshall as we seek to engage and advance our interests in a fiercely
competitive global context.

It is true that Afrikaans faces a challenge; it is up against the dominance
of English in the business arena and in many parts of the academic world.
But this is a different problem (to a claim that Afrikaans is being singled
out and specifically suppressed); instead, this is a concern facing all
other official languages. Afrikaans *taal stryders* (language activists)
should unite with others to examine ways in which to promote the use of the
mother tongue in education as well as multiple language usage in policy
debates, in the creative arts and as many spheres of life as possible.

Afrikaners can also get some perspective by recognizing how many African
black people speak Afrikaans. For millions of people in the country,
Afrikaans is the only or primary language second only to their home
language. Thus, for example, Matthews Posa writes poetry in Afrikaans and
well known figures such as Mosiuoa Lekota, Mannie Dipico and Sandile
Dikeniare at ease when engaging with others using the medium of
Afrikaans. And
*tsotsitaal, *as its name suggests, is replete with Afrikaans words.
Afrikaners should also take proper cognisance of the many South Africans of
mixed heritage who speak Afrikaans as a home language, and who argue that
coloured black Afrikaners played a key role in the emergence of the
language. Leaders in this community have always noted that, in their book,
Afrikaans was as much a language of "*onderdrukking*" (oppression) as a
language of "*bevryding*" (liberation).

I say: it is time to further break down the laager of official ownership of
and fearfulness around Afrikaans. Stop circling the wagons! Let the
Afrikaans arts festivals increase the pace of opening up to people of
different cultural backgrounds and halt the possible slippage into rallying
points for conservatism, exclusivity and fearmongering. Let us use these and
other platforms to harvest the lessons from the development of Afrikaans so
we can assist those practitioners struggling to enhance the status of other
marginalized indigenous languages. Afrikaans will be part of the
Mzansilandscape for a long time to come, especially if Afrikaners
navel-gazing in favour of reaching out to fellow South Africans in a spirit
of optimism and togetherness.
And if white Afrikaners do shed their blinkers and reach out, they will find
that the Thuli Manungus of the world have long joined the process of
sustaining and promoting "*die taal*".

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