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Is Afrikaans cooler as Engels?

If you grew up in Durban you had little time for Afrikaans. We thought it was dumb, intellectually inferior. A blunt language with no creative value. Too limited in its diction to produce anything of worth. It was what the Vaalies spoke when they invaded our beaches. It was the language the SAUK dubbed TV shows into to make them extra rubbish. We saw Afrikaans as boring. It was Bles Bridges and Riaan Cruywagen. The tongue of the unfashionable and the conservative. The language of the oppressor. The language of apartheid. (I’m sure I saw those signs in English too, but anyway). By 1994, it seemed like all the stuff we had been told was true. Afrikaans was totally uncool. It looked like it was a goner. A dead language that would be assigned to the scrapheap of history.

But fok did we get it wrong! The Afrikaans kids are here to take the power back. To show us who is baas. But this time, the politics and the weirdo white power stuff is gone. They are here to kick it hard and party like its 2099. They are here to show us no-one throws down like an Afrikaner rushing on klippies — the cocaine of the working-class man.

Rising up from the streets of Belville comes Jack Parow and his Tyger Valley crew. They are mining deep into their suburban roots. Pulling up the shit that the rest of us have shunned and twisting it into gold. While we sat there thinking we were the coolness, the creative ones with the hook-ups to the international scene, these kids went inside. While we looked to NY, Paris and London for our influences, these kids looked to CY, Parys and Benoni. They speak from the heart and tell their truth. It’s like Jack Parow says in his track, Cooler as ekke:

Jy’s die ou met die new fresh look
Ek’s die ou met die Pep Stores broek.

That shit is tight. Because it isn’t coming at you from Pitchfork Media, GQ or the latest issue of One Small Seed, it’s coming vannie grond. It’s of its place. It is relevant, legitimate and honest. And it’s funny like ________ (insert really funny thing here). In fact, it is even funnier. Go listen to it.

But it ain’t just Jack. Afrikaans has more than one answer to its detractors. In fact it has Die Antwoord. A band that has two-point-zeroed the Afrikaans liedjie into a new millennium. They call it Afrikaans rave-rap. A sort of boereorkes with beats vetter than a mince vetkoek. The funny thing is: Ninja, the front man of Die Antwoord used to be Max Normal and before that Waddy of the Original Evergreens, and he used to sing in English only. Recognise, things change.

But it’s not just the music, it’s the fashion, it’s the look, it’s sliced up sweet like highway roses. I’m not sure if it is nice to compare a girl to a 3L Ford Cortina but I’m going to. Yo-landi Vi$$er of Die Antwoord is sexy like that. A chrome spray job, sleek lines and brimming with guts. But if working-class Afrikaans girls don’t float your boat, there is always the Afro-chic of Gazelle. The king of the New Rave African Dictators. This man is carving a new place for the white boy in Africa. If Idi Amin and Donna Summers had a love child it would be Gazelle. Yes, he is that good. His track, Die Verlore Seun basically has just one line but it speaks reams.

Sorry papa, ek moes die plaas verlaat, want ek mis die disko ligte

If you wanted to sum up the beautiful angst of Afrikaans, that says everything. I wish I could write a line like that. But I went to a school that pitched Afrikaans to us as droll, something to endure rather than enjoy. If someone had suggested Afrikaans as an artistic tool, a vehicle for great music and on-point comedy they would have been called a fool.

But like they say it’s never too late to learn. So I emailed Jack Parow and he threw me a line. In fact he threw me several. I asked him to write a set of rules to help me live like a legit Belville Brak, to live life the Jack Parow way. And this is what he wrote:

Fokken dans oppie speaker, fokken dans oppie grond

fokken spring oppie tafels, fokken bons fokken rond

fokken hier fokken daar, fokken alles deurmekaar

fokken jack parow bra, fokken dans oppie bar

fokken dans op jou eie, fokken dans in n groep

dans met n sixpack, fokken dans met n boep

dans oppie dansvloer, dans om n hoek

dans met n cupcake, dans met n koek

drink tot jy dronk is, drink tot jy kotz

drink tot jy sterk is, drink tot jy bots

drink saam met brunettes, drink saam met blondes

drink saam met cool kids, drink saam met skom

TIGHT!

PS This piece wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to Koos Kombuis, Brasse vannie Kaap, Fokofpolisiekar and all the other Alt-bro Afrikaners out there. Peace Y’all.

Author

  • David Smith is a world famous artist and a British Olympic hammer thrower. He is a curler for Scotland and Manitoba. A pro wrestler fondly known as the British Bulldog. A Canadian economist and a Mormon missionary they call the Sweet Singer of Israel. He is a British historian and a bishop. David Smith is the biographer of HG Wells, a professor of physics, a composer and a music teacher at Yale. He played rugby for Samoa, England and New Zealand. He created the Melissa worm, a deadly computer virus. He is the Guardian's man in Africa, he starred in a reality TV show and shot his way to silver in the 600m military rifle prone position at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. But this isn't that David Smith. This is the blog of the other David Smith. David J Smith. The one from Durban by the Sea. The one who lives in Amsterdam. Yes, him. The David Smith who likes to write about himself in the third person. To learn about all the other David Smiths: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Smith To contact this David Smith: [email protected]

52 Comments

  1. Graham Johnson Graham Johnson 3 February 2010

    A brilliant piece. A great and funny read. Thanks ou pel.

  2. Al Al 3 February 2010

    As a fellow Natal boy, brought up to be an English snob, I shall emphasise your line …But fok did we get it wrong!

  3. Robin Grant Robin Grant 3 February 2010

    You’ve spoken about the agreeably brilliant silver lining, but theres also a huge mother of a cloud around which this lining exists (Kurt Darren, Bok van Blerk, Steve Hofmeyr,Robbie Wessels, Dozi etc).
    With regards to the new SA Engels music – A lot of it is absolutely world class, with very little drivel actually making it mainstream within the Engels culture, as it does seem to do within the Afrikaans culture.

  4. Melbok Melbok 4 February 2010

    Classic. Absolute gold. Afrikaans is befok man.

    I don’t think there’s a more descriptive language in the world. And I’m English.

  5. griffin griffin 4 February 2010

    Watkykjy maak zef Afrikaans al fokken cool van 2000 af, my blare.

  6. Conrad Steenkamp Conrad Steenkamp 4 February 2010

    Nice piece, David. What about the “Sestigers”, “Sewentigers”, etc.?

  7. hjs hjs 4 February 2010

    If you grew up in Bloemfontein, you knew that English was only spoken in self defence. English was spoken by people in Durban and other types of foreigners. Even the local English newspaper, The Friend, closed down. Nobody read it.

  8. Cobus Fourie Cobus Fourie 4 February 2010

    I find the Belville bunch of late as just being OTT. The hype is over and it is milked for more than what it’s worth. Every single monkey’s recording an Afrikaans album nowadays. My question: who buys that???!!! (pardon superfluous use of punctuation marks) I am left with a profound feeling of sadness after watching Parow. I cringed a lot. Parody has a limited shelf-life and frankly I think the whole batch is quite putrid already. Yawn…

  9. Gary Gary 4 February 2010

    Mr Smif, when you like scheme a culture is only its jol, julle souties in KZN is dommer as ek gedink het! Amazingly complex lyrics though

  10. brigs brigs 4 February 2010

    Its not the language which is cool so much as being Afrikaans. If your English you have no real culture.

  11. Vic Vic 4 February 2010

    Fokkit David, jy’s ougat!

  12. Stylo Stylo 4 February 2010

    Fokken kwaai blog bru!

  13. Viva Durban Viva Durban 4 February 2010

    Love it – I always thought it was a dying language myself, until I stepped over the colonial border! As they say if you “vat n’ kaans” you won’t look back.

  14. bruce bruce 4 February 2010

    Fantastic article, thank you/dankie!

  15. Benzol Benzol 4 February 2010

    Being from Dutch origin, where Afrikaans was classified as “kitchen Dutch”, I tried first to understand the language which was easier than reading the language. Both did not take long.

    Speaking Afrikaans for a Dutch person is more complicated.

    When people ask me why I do not speak Afrikaans, my standard answer is: “I can make the noises but cannot speak the language (properly)”.
    I refer than to my Saturday afternoon TV series with Piet Plezier where I learned to appreciate the idiom, the expressions (as you call them “tight”) and the elaborate but detailed story telling.
    I was convinced that Afrikaans was much more than kitchen Dutch: a “bloemrijke en kleurrijke taal” deserving its own place under the sun.
    Thanks for your support.
    Will I ever master the language? No, not in my lifetime but I will still make the noises and happily mix Dutch, Afrikaans and English in my conversations when I feel that English does not cut it.

  16. Gerry Gerry 4 February 2010

    Ja nee kyk, Afrikaners IS fokken plesierig.

  17. Stephen Browne Stephen Browne 4 February 2010

    Genuine yo.

  18. Kameraad Mhambi Kameraad Mhambi 4 February 2010

    “heres also a huge mother of a cloud around which this lining exists (Kurt Darren, Bok van Blerk, Steve Hofmeyr,Robbie Wessels, Dozi etc).
    With regards to the new SA Engels music – A lot of it is absolutely world class, with very little drivel actually making it mainstream within the Engels culture, as it does seem to do within the Afrikaans culture. ”

    The problem with a lot of English South African music is that it tries to be world class and not South African.

    Read behind my link above.

    For any culture to really deliver gems you firstly need a culture. Most of it shite. Look at the UK or USA. English SA cant escape that their culture is ill defined. It has no foundation of shite.

  19. brent brent 4 February 2010

    I grew up in English Natal and never ever at home, social functions, schools etc was Afrikaans treated as inferior or openly and verbally abused – what terrible planet did you come from and ugly people did you grow up with?? The language and spirit of van Wyk Louw and Opperman is beautiful and evolved organically out of South Africa, incidentially initially started and sustained by the Cape ‘Colourds’.

    Brent

  20. S.P.van Niekerk S.P.van Niekerk 4 February 2010

    Nou moet ons net leer om te kan saamstem oor iets , enige iets dan word die wereld dalk ons oester.

  21. Simon Simon 4 February 2010

    Hahah. So the devil-tongue does have a purpose in the end.

  22. Baz Baz 4 February 2010

    As an Afrikaans boykie working for an English paper, all I can say is HOENERVLEIS!

  23. pete ess pete ess 4 February 2010

    Sorry, but “Fok you did NOT get it wrong” – at the time. The language that is OUT OF power has more potential to be the cool language. NO WAYS was Afrikaans ever cool while fat white male pricks spoke it while abusing fellow citizens. Now that it cannot actually do “kragdadigheid” it can be cool. (And anyway, it’s not Afrikaans that’s cool now, it’s a new language liberally sprinkled with other languages, mainly English).

  24. Davie Smit Davie Smit 4 February 2010

    @Robin Robbie Wessels is a bloody legend. His track Liewe Ouers is a classic. The insights are awesome. it is funny in the way that Kath and Kim and the Royale family are funny.

    check it, awesome shit

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQVa3isBt8Y

  25. Ali Ali 4 February 2010

    Yea Robin

    That’s because the english SA kids listen to drivel from overseas, or even worse, Afrikaans crap. You cannot have significant culture without drivel, in my humble opinion. Check German, check Russian, check French, my my, check English!

  26. hjs hjs 4 February 2010

    And may I add to what I wrote above. Your take on the Afrikaans language is hilarious.

  27. James James 4 February 2010

    Well done mate. Afrikaans is cool.

  28. Po Po 4 February 2010

    Afrikaans is the new black.

  29. Leon Leon 4 February 2010

    Gert Vlok Nel. Beautiful in Beaufort-Wes. Get the video and soundtrack. See where Afrikaans comes from. Beautiful photography, beautiful people.

    And it lives. Did you know that we still create our own words? And we borrow? Komper, rekenaar, knormoer, eish! (computer, starter motor, “no shit). Thanks, enjoyed this immensely.

  30. Robin Grant Robin Grant 4 February 2010

    @Dawie – I think the cloud crowd are very good entertainers who make their listeners very happy, but none of them are very good artists.

    There are some brilliant Afrikaans musicians and poets, many mentioned in this blog, and many old school musos like Koos Kombuis or even Anton Goosen not mentioned.

    I think that Afrikaans has the benefit of being a unique culture on its own. The English culture is still tied to, well, England – with a strong American influence thrown in. for every Afrikaans CD released, a hundred English CDs are released. This actually makes it pretty tough for English musicians in SA to compete against for market share, and maybe this is why the Afrikaans musicians can afford to be cooler.

  31. X Cepting X Cepting 5 February 2010

    @David Smith – Brave attempt to cross the bridge and extend the hand of friendship? Good one, in that case. Koos Kombuis rocks, Jack Parow? Afrikaans rapper? Ag shame.

    @Kameraad Mhambi – sometimes being old have benefit, one got to be around when things were designed. Zef: short for Zephyr, as in the Ford Zephyr which was a favourite of people who proudly pretended not to be able to speak Afrikaans, wore leathers and chains and basically dug the whole “grease” culture. Those zef people Afrikaans parents would have warned their children against. In our family the word describes someone who tries to be somebody by subscribing to popular (foreign) culture.

  32. X Cepting X Cepting 5 February 2010

    Both Afrikaans and English started off as a kitchen language and developed because masters needed to communicate with slaves who spoke a different language. English is just older and therefore more complex.

  33. David Howard David Howard 5 February 2010

    The first paragraph of the article was fine in which the author described the vile and detestable nature of Afrikaans -the language’s intimate associations with racism and the absence of anything worthwhile to be said in this language’s defensive. But then I was lost after the second paragraph… Afrikaans as cool? Well I guess “cool” is subjective but still let us be realistic. Afrikaans will perish from this country, and the groups and individuals the author describes are the last death rattle of a dying culture. Afrikaans may she rest in peace…

  34. Leon Leon 5 February 2010

    David Howard. My first reaction was anger at your observation. Later, realising that it was a purely emotional reaction to an attack on something I hold dear (my Moedertaal), I had to ask myself: “What if he is right?” It has happened before, I’m sure – a language going extinct. Time Magazine once predicted that there will eventually be 3 languages left: English, Spanish and Mandarin.

  35. thepinkcat thepinkcat 12 February 2010

    It’s true isn’t it… Lekker!

  36. Chad Chad 23 February 2010

    please look at how many people use English before saying that Afrikaans is better. It is a blunt and weird language to learn and sometimes can be a problem for students at school who wont be using the language but fail the year because it is compulsory

  37. EvylShnukums EvylShnukums 24 February 2010

    Funny article but I’d have to say that Jack Parow is not the best example of Afrikaans music. In my opinion, “common” has never been cool.

    However some of the comments here confirm what you say at the beginning of the article (and the topic of a lengthy discussion with some friends a while back). Prejudice against, or at least an attitude of superiority towards, Afrikaans and Afrikaners is quite a socially acceptable prejudice. There are others but that is not relevant to this article.

    I feel it’s perfectly acceptable for someone not to want to learn a language. However I do believe you miss out on the enrichment of learning something new, the benefits associated with speaking to someone in their mother tongue, and last but not least, multilingualism is strongly correlated with resistance against degenrative neurological disorders. Read up about it.

    I had to take an African language as part of my degree course. I chose Zulu but found it a very complex language to learn. However I don’t regret having to step outside my linguistic comfort zone.

    As for Afrikaans becoming extinct, don’t be too sure. http://www.endangered-languages.com/ has an interesting classification system you can check

  38. EvylShnukums EvylShnukums 24 February 2010

    @ David Howard

    I felt I needed some clarification on your statements about the “vile and detestable nature of Afrikaans -the language’s intimate associations with racism and the absence of anything worthwhile to be said in this language’s defensive”.

    I think the word you were looking for was “defence”. But I am unable to grasp how a language may, in and of itself, be vile and detestable. Furthermore I was wondering about any specific language’s “intimate association with racism”. Is American English intimately associated with slavery because the slave-owners spoke it? Is Flemish intimately associated with oppression, mutilation and torture because of Leopold II’s horrific abuses?

    I eagerly await your response.

  39. Deon Deon 14 March 2010

    I was born and raised in Durban and as an Afrikaner had to contend with people that could not come close to speaking my language the way I spoke theirs. Nogal snaaks dit as I am still here and all the souties think I am Engels but nothing can be further from the truth :) Glad there are Souties seeing the light in that not all Afrikaans is Rina Hugo and Curt Darren.

  40. A Potgieter A Potgieter 24 March 2010

    http://www.facebook.com/notes.php?id=658297772 I hammered out this Facebook note. Watkykjy seems to be getting much more attention than it is been given credit for, and I think it serves as a portal for social commentary.

    David J Smith has it spot on, once again.

  41. Marietjie Marietjie 20 October 2010

    As it happens, an author with the most subtle sensibilities, writing in Afrikaans, lives in Durban. She is Ingrid Winterbach, author of incredible novels such as “Niggie” (translated as “To hell with Cronje”), “Die Boek van Toeval en Toeverlaat” (“The Book of Happenstance”), “Karolina Ferreira” (also translated) and her latest, “Die Nederryk”. Well worth investigating!

  42. CNK CNK 21 November 2010

    I’m so over Afrikaans as ‘language of the oppressors’. Wherever you go in SA, Afrikaans is fluid and swims accordingly. I wish I could speak and write suiwer. It is one of the most poetic languages I’ve ever heard. (Personally I think it shits on Dutch and German in terms of range, but then I’m biased. Everything starts with language and the range of Afrikaans particularly because it’s so fluid – I’m biased – referring to Western Cape here – is so pretty and yet so fulfilling particularly when I, (crap at it) here it spoken in whatever context.)

    I think Die Antwoord, satire or not, is a bloody clever production considering the intricacy of website, clips, shorts, etc. I’m just glad that a South African band is getting an audience on a worldwide scale in all languages of Sa. Okay three out of eleven aint bad.

  43. Alissa Simmer Alissa Simmer 20 July 2011

    Thanks for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  44. Stix Stix 25 January 2012

    Afrikaans is definitely becoming a stronger language online too. Just look at the amount of Afrikaans Blogs that has sprung up over the past few years.

  45. Michele Michele 22 November 2013

    I really enjoyed reading the comments above. It invoked some emotion in me…and then it stopped. Why do you think that is? Wat de F-!

  46. Michele Michele 22 November 2013

    Have we forgotten to stand up for Afrikaans? Has the minority all of a sudden been accepted? As an Afrikaans speaking person in KZN, I can tell you the short and sweet anser to all of the above is ‘NO’.

  47. Christo Christo 26 August 2014

    Afrikaans is very much still alive. But true Afrikaners prefer to do it with more class, none of this Jack Parrow and Die Antwoord stuff is necessary. Ons Afrikaners is siek-en-sat daarvoor om vergelyk te word met Appartheid, veral wanneer Afrikaans, as n taal, f-ol te doen het daarmee! There’s a beauty in the simplicity of Afrikaans as a language. No conservatism here, just that true Afrikaners respect their home language like they would respect an elder. We Afrikaners will not tolerate our beloved language to be thrown into the garbage. Just listen to Laurika Rauch, one of our most beloved Afrikaans-singers. The purity in her voice symbolizes the purity of Afrikaans. It’s not just her either, there’s: Ge Korsten; Bles Bridges; Elvis Blue; Patricia Lewis; Liani May; Bobby and Karlien Van Jaarsveld; Karen Ziod, etc! alot of what Jack Parrow and Die Antwoord tells us in their songs about Afrikaans people is true, but it should be executed in a less crude-fashion! AFRIKAANS IS GROOT!!

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