Bullet for my Koeksusterby Karl Kemp / Illustration by Alastair Laird / 04.12.2012
I can’t write in my mother-tongue. Despite the decisively Afrikaans culmination of my Dutch and German breeding program I was sent to an English private-school and it was there that the hideous transformation began. My parents (one of whom grew up kaalvoet on a farm close to Bloemfontein and the other who grew up a block away from Loftus Versfeld and played rugby for Affies and Tuks) feared the current state of the public education system, with good reason. But often on quiet nights I can hear the shuffling noise of a skeleton rolling over, coming from my oupa’s grave in Pretoria.
What does it mean to be Afrikaans in any case? Most people have a fixed idea in their heads and generally it’s wrong. I don’t listen to that ou pampoen crap or the undercover sex fiend Kurt, because the music is abhorrent. I do however love old Ralph Rabie and his equally damaged contemporary, Jan Blohm, not to mention the riot-causing, bible bashing pseudo-punk institution known as Fokofpolisiekar. I don’t belong to the N.G Kerk, or any damn church for that matter. I detest the current regime yes, not for the old reasons usually associated with Afrikaners, but because of the ongoing tragi-comedy of corruption and the embarrassing rolling scandal it has become. I’d take a bullet for a koeksuster though, and despite a slight affection for soccer, rugby rules my sporting heart. Sokkie? I can’t even dance to English music. And yes, Piet Retief and the Slag of Bloedrivier is a fascinating story, but I’m not going to construct an identity around it.
Yet so many hapless Afrikaans people have. Solidarity is the buzzword these days; a kind of subtle call to arms for Afrikaans speaking people who wish to huddle together and complain in loud tones instead of angry whispers.
Cue the “gripping” transformation debate raging on Stellenbosch campus.
Surprisingly the young Afrikaner demographic isn’t really making its stem all that dik, so to speak.The word apathy comes to mind. The few of them that do contribute belong to showy leadership frameworks and use vague words and phrases like “progressive” and “critical discussion”, because they’re quick to admit their heritage but hesitant to defend it. It’s the parents of prospective students that really stir up shit and make the headlines because they don’t have CV’s or coming careers to worry about, as demonstrated by the tantrums thrown on RSG whenever this topic pops up.
That particular useless debate has been exhaustively dissected on various blogs to make students think that they actually have a say in an executive policy and so is not up for discussion here. But the fact remains that we as a people have clung to our perceived, or given, identity so tightly that we have become what others have prescribed us to be. And my generation is now growing up in that unfortunate paradigm. It’s too easy to assign labels, and it’s even easier for us to live in them. Why? Because we’re embarrassed of admitting that we’re more than that. Being Afrikaans has become a bit of a punchline, and this has made the bittereinders cling ever more tightly to concepts of pride, heritage, history and taal without ever contributing to its progression.
By all means, please keep our literature, our volkslied, our stories. We need Bretyenbach and Van Wyk Louw to make sense of the chaos in our country. But we’re not keeping it; we’re clinging to it furiously, and for the wrong reasons, like we’re trying to pretend that we aren’t embarrassed.
Let us then distinguish between several types of Afrikaner; take any combination of the factors I’ve mentioned and mix them to your liking. You’ll end up with some kind of stereotype cocktail, whether it be the angst-ridden youth locked in a suburban cage in their own country, tant Sannie who has worn the same dress since 1975 and makes the best damn smoor this side of Pofadder, or the bald banker you see at the airport wearing sunglasses and carrying a suspiciously large suitcase with a ticket marked “Sydney”. Try and pin enough of these down to mark us with a group identity and you can’t. There are too many variables within our people, too much wanton genetic mixture and wayward intellectual sparks, to simply say that there are one or three types of Afrikaans speaking person and that’s all we wrote.
This is why I write in English unashamedly. It’s a whore language, really it is, and cannot compare to what Afrikaans can express. But I refuse to bend over and let myself be molested by the guilt bank we’ve built up as a people. I find myself in a position where I can better express myself through the written word in English, and so be it. I’m not going to apologise, and even less am I going to stand by whilst the old school label me a product of a defunct generation buying into a dysfunctional rainbow nation that is, allegedly, trying to kill off our culture.
I can write in English and simultaneously be as ‘Afrikaans’ as a knopkierie. Neither will I invoke the cliché of being the new, Proudly South African Afrikaner. That’s unnecessary and frankly, slightly embarrassing to hear, especially when vocalised by aging travel writers who sympathised with the ANC way back when. Emphasis on ‘way back’. My generation doesn’t have the slightest clue of what Apartheid was really like. I could hardly use the bathroom by myself when that system came tumbling down, and certain ANCYL leaders still can’t, so why are young black and white Saffa’s carrying on like there’s some kind of violent revolution that needs to take place?
To our friends in Parliament and the rest of the country; stop thinking that the entire Afrikaans nation is biding its time, waiting resentfully for you to fuck up even more than you already have done, so that a new new NP can rise up. Stop thinking all of us drink only brandy and speak fragmented English. Stop thinking that we can’t appreciate anything outside of a well-cooked chop. Stop thinking that we wear two tone shirts and secretly yearn for the politics of Hendrik Verwoerd. Because whilst there are people like that, you’re sorely mistaken if you think that’s all we have to offer. And more importantly, to all Afrikaans speaking people; stop letting the rest of the world prescribe to you what our identity should be. Stop thinking that the only way to combat oppression is through preservation, because that only results in stagnation. Stop thinking so much, and start living in Afrikaans without fear of being persecuted for it. And for Malan’s sake, stop worshipping Steve Hofmeyr.
*Illustration © Alastair Laird.