William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Afrikaans shows some unexpected mettle

For the past two decades Afrikaners have been struggling to find a new identity. Specifically, one beyond the cliché of Boertjie as a thickset, thick-skulled, knuckle-dragging, racist Neanderthal whose simple pleasures in life are slugging Klippies-and-Coke and dancing lang arm around the braai.

That is, when the Baas is not otherwise engaged dragging errant farm labourers behind the bakkie or klapping into obedience his cowed wife and children.

Such stereotyping is not imagined. The abusive Afrikaner archetype is the staple fare – or should one say, pap en vleis? – of land reform skirmishing.

And earlier this year Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, singled out brutalised Afrikaner men as being responsible for the scourge of gender and child abuse. That is, before retreating in the face of outrage and now blaming Satanism instead. Afrikaners? Satanists? Really, it’s all the same to Loopy Lu.

So Afrikaners should be somewhat pleased at statistics this week from the Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR). Of almost 7-millions South Africans whose home language is Afrikaans, only 40%, some 2.7-million, are whites. Most of the remaining 4.1-million are Coloureds but there are also 600 000 Africans and 59 000 Indians.

While paleface Afrikaners actually hit the tipping point as far back as 1996, what is interesting is that the trend is proceeding apace. While white Afrikaans speakers have remained virtually static in numbers, since 1996, three times as many Africans and Indians have Afrikaans as a first language, as well as 17% more Coloureds.

This resilience of Afrikaans is remarkable given the increasing dominance of English over all indigenous languages, both locally and internationally. For example, English, although only the fourth largest home language after Zulu (11.6m), Xhosa (8.2m) and Afrikaans, is the preferred language of learning for 64% of pupils.

Only a third of the 4.9-million who speak English as their home language are white and there has been an exponential preference for English among other races. In 1996 only 113 000 Africans chose English as a first language, now it is 1.2-million. While Afrikaans-speaking Coloureds today still outnumber English-speaking ones by 3.6 to one, that’s down from five to one.

Predictably, those suiwer Afrikaners whose obsession with racial purity once had them fretting and bickering about exactly what percentage of ‘black’ blood coursed through the Volk‘s veins will experience these statistics as yet another crushing indignity. They should instead view it as another step in the release of Afrikanerdom from the miserable burdens of the racist National Party era.

A once-shunned reality can at last be embraced: Afrikaners have always been a baster people and we – even those of us who have long been AWOL from the tribe – are enriched, not demeaned, by other cultures choosing in increasing numbers to speak Afrikaans at home.

Afrikaners were given another rare psychological boost this week, this time from Helen Zille, the Democratic Alliance leader. In recounting what she calls the DA’s ‘untold story,’ Zille identifies several Afrikaners whose strivings for a non-racial society had been buried under the stereotype of monolithic Afrikaner racism. She lauds Jan Steytler and Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, active in previous incarnations of the DA, and also from outside the camp, the early 20th century Cape liberals JW Sauer, FS Malan and Jan Hofmeyr.

Strangely, she neglects to mention the communist Braam Fischer but, then again, in her first serving of the story she scandalised the DA faithful by ignoring the contributions of Tony Leon, the man she edged aside to take the party leadership. No surprises there. History, after all, is written by the victor.

Afrikaners, smarting from years of being unloved, are always grateful for a little stroking and will be pleased at Zille’s plaudits. Not everyone, however, has been pleased with the contents of the DA’S ‘untold story’. There has been much scornful hissing from the media commentariat at her claiming Nelson Mandela’s praise for Progressive Party stalwart Helen Suzman’s long, lone battle against apartheid, as proof of a honourable liberal tradition to which the DA can lay legitimate claim.

Such outrage is difficult to fathom. All ideologies have their mythologies and Zille’s account of the past is as valid as anything that ANC peddles. But leaked strategy documents for a 2014 election campaign based on the thesis that today’s ANC is the NP reincarnated, while the DA is the true inheritor of the ANC mantle, is as risible and preposterous as any of the propaganda emanating from Luthuli House. It’s a strategy that actually implemented will be as disastrous as Leon’s `’fight back’ campaign, which was widely understood by voters to be ‘fight black’.

It’s enough to drive one to drink. Gooi my nog ‘n dop, boet.

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • Language: An emotive issue
  • An important conference for Afrikaans in Europe
  • Luister, you can keep your Oxford scholarship
  • Klein Karoo National Arts Festival: Close, but no cigar