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Black and Afrikaans

Black and Afrikaans

by Zoe Henry / 09.04.2010

The time: Easter weekend 2010. The place: Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn. The vibe: Aggressive. There aren’t punches being thrown or bottles being smashed over people’s heads. Not yet anyway. But it is aggressively Afrikaans, and it’s aggressively white. It’s like they taught you in Standard Two history, when the Voortrekkers would create a laager out of their wagons to protect themselves. Perhaps the organisers and patrons of the KKNK are not trying to keep outsiders out, or even themselves in, but it feels like an exclusive club, and if you’re not white, and like me, you don’t speak Afrikaans, you don’t belong.

At the 2009 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Brett Bailey put on an exhibition called “Terminal”. The exhibition involved a small black child – one per exhibition goer – leading the visitor around the deserted Grahamstown train station and railway tracks. Along the journey there were black adults, their faces concealed behind stockings, rendering them faceless. One of the questions Bailey’s exhibition was asking was why racism as perpetrated by white English speaking South Africans, as in Grahamstown, is often glossed over. Whereas racism from white Afrikaners, as in Oudtshoorn, is vilified and considered the norm?

Welcome to Ostrich Country

Yes, yes, I’m sure there are many white people living in both Grahamstown and Oudtshoorn who don’t consider themselves to be racist, and I’m sure some of their best friends are black. But one can’t ignore that for nearly every small, predominantly white town in South Africa, whether it’s English or Afrikaans-speaking, there’s a neighbouring township sprawling across the landscape where the majority of the area’s black population are living in squalor. In the midst of the “Kill the Boer” struggle song debate followed closely by the horrifically brutal murder of not just any boer, but the boer, this may be somewhat of a contentious subject. But Bailey has a point – why is it that racism from white Afrikaners is so much more demonised than that from their English speaking brethren? Did English speaking white people not benefit just as much from the apartheid system as white Afrikaners? In the wise words of Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”, and it is certain that many white English speakers stood by during apartheid and did nothing, and continue to stand by and do nothing, even today. And one could argue that this apathy masquerading as liberalism is even more disturbing because it’s insidious and inherently dishonest.

On your knees, sinner!

Back to Oudtshoorn. According to the 2001 census, 55.3% of Western Cape residents speak Afrikaans as their home language. The same census shows that only 18.4% of the province is white, so it stands to reason that the majority of the Afrikaans speakers aren’t white. Why then are the non-white Afrikaans speakers not more present at the province’s largest Afrikaans Arts Festival, in terms of both festival goers and performers? Sure, there were a few coloured people on the streets of Oudtshoorn, but they were generally working at stalls or singing a song on a street corner for some spare change. The KKNK appears on the surface to be a celebration of white Afrikaans culture, an event that has no space for, or cognisance of, the overwhelming non-white majority of Afrikaans speakers. Is this glaring segregation owing merely to cultural, social and economic differences? Is it a problem of a lack of funding? Or is it possibly the old Voortrekker mentality of forming a laager around their culture, keeping it protected from the rest of the country, including the darker hued Afrikaners?

Patricia Lewis watch out

It’s Good Friday and the mercury has swelled to the 34-degree line. Trainers are melting onto the tar as people drift aimlessly from stall to stall in search of some shade and something to quench their perpetual thirst. We find refuge in one of the music tents. A poppie with dreams of being the next Patricia Lewis jumps around on stage and winks at me as I take her picture. It’s just gone 10am and the bar has donned its open sign. It’s never too early for a brannewyn en Coke out here. There are a few posters advertising the finest in Afrikaans theatre, but if one were to judge on the posters alone, this is a boeremusiek fees through and through. The glistening abs of Eden and Jay overlook the passers-by. Amore Vittone smiles seductively from her piece of cardboard twined to a pole. It’s remarkable how erotic these posters are – homo and otherwise. Nearly every artist is clad in minimal attire accompanied with a ‘come hither’ look. Dozi attempts sexy and mysterious while co-star Nianell shows a bit of bronzed leg.

My abs do the talking

Hopefully Dozi’s smirk has been replaced with a sheepish look since he is being forced to apologise for loudly telling his friends over dinner that “black people do not know how to govern the country” and using the word ‘kaffir’ not once, not twice, but three times. While white English speakers are standing by doing nothing, white Afrikaners like Dozi are saying black people can’t run the country. Perhaps it’s this sort of behaviour that makes white Afrikaners an easy target for demonisation. And maybe that’s part of the reason the face of the KKNK is so pale.

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