June 19, 2011

breaking through the language barrier – “kaapse afrikaans”: a tool to effect change in society

Filed under: afrikaaps — ABRAXAS @ 11:24 pm

by Madge du Preez

In this article, Madge du Preez, poet and author of the anthology “Gemeng” investigates and highlights the origin and perceptions that led to the perceived defectiveness of “Kaaps” as an acceptable language by the previous Apartheid Regime. She also questions the authority of the standard variety (which was perceived as a symbol of a particular socio-cultural identity) as a language to be adopted by all. She further discusses a way forward to bring norms and values back to society using the anthology “Gemeng” as a tool to re-awaken and touch the hearts of many Capetonians.

“Kaaps” is the mother tongue of over 50% of people in the Western Cape. In terms of race, the 2001 census reveals that 53.91% comprises Coloured people. (Wikipedia). Most Coloured people speak Afrikaans while about ten percent of them speak English as their mother tongue, mostly in the Eastern Cape and Natal. However, virtually all Cape Town Coloureds are bilingual. Some can comfortably codeswitch between ‘Kaapse taal’ (a creolized dialect of Afrikaans spoken mostly in the Cape Flats , ‘suiwer Afrikaans’ (formal Afrikaans as taught at school), and English. (Wikipedia)

Since Coloured people constitute a majority of the population in the Western Cape, why is it so important to preserve the standard variety (Afrikaans) whilst “Kaaps” is the mother tongue of over two million people in the Western Cape?

The following statement made by former President Nelson Mandela: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” is significantly striking in comparison with the statement made by ex-President FW de Klerk’s late ex-wife, Marike de Klerk, where she indomitably states that coloureds are a negative group.

“You know, they (coloured people) are a negative group. The definition of a coloured person in the population register is someone that is not white and not black, and is also not Indian in other words a non-person…They are left-overs…They have no history of governing themselves. They must be supervised.” (quoted in Scheper Hughes :1994).

Afrikaans was officially recognised in the twentieth century, a time when people in South Africa were segregated and forced to be educated in Afrikaans. Coloured people were relocated under the Group Areas Act. As a result of this devastating experience this group distanced themselves from their home language which was also the language of the oppressor. “As a result many Coloureds adopted attitudes which were negative towards Afrikaner nationalism, but sympathetic towards the British Administration.” (Ponelis 1993). The acclaimed South African writer, Alan Paton once remarked that only a fool or a philologist would try to say anything about Afrikaans without thinking about Afrikaner nationalism. (quoted by Muller et al. 1986:13)

In his review of the “cutting edge hiphopera” Keylock describes (Mail & Guardian, 16-22 April 2010, p 13) Kaapsevlakte-Afrikaans (Afrikaaps) as “an outsider language, disenfranchised, marginalised and largely written out of history and contemporary discourse” He further asserts that “Cape Afrikaans has pretty much been written out of official history, erased from South Africa’s collective consciousness and left to germinate in ghetto culture.” However, a linguistic study group called “The Kaaps Language Circle” is doing research in promoting competency in the Afrikaans dialect spoken by the Coloured population in Cape Town. They rely on standardized varieties of English or Afrikaans to do their research, yet the majority of Capetonians speak “Kaaps”, a language that students (both from Yale and the University of Cape Town) have to learn to do justice to their research, a language epitomized by Afrikaner nationalism as non-standard.

“Het Afrikaans is een West-Germaanse taal” says author of “’n Ordinary Mens” (Kaapstad: Tafelberg, 1982). At the third “Swart Afrikaanse Skrywerssimposium” at the University of the Western Cape, Peter Snyders starts his lecture with the following statement: “Ek is ’n Kleurling (met ’n hoofletter) en my moedertaal is Kaaps. Maar my taal word nie deur hierdie regering erken nie,.” Adam Small states that “Kaaps is ’n taal…nie ’n snaaksigheid nie,”(Hugo 2009:17) and still the language of the religion in the Moslem community (2009: 46). Achmat Davids asserts that “…today (we) know that by the final emancipation of slavery in 1838, not only was Cape Afrikaans the dominant language spoken by the slaves and Free Blacks in Cape Town, but it was also written in the Arabic script” (1991: 86).

The poetry book “Gemeng” written by Madge du Preez and self-published in 2008, uses “Kaaps” as a metaphor for change. The standard variety as adopted by the Apartheid regime was not the language that Coloured people in the Cape Flats grew up with. To get the message of bringing norms and values back to society, the poet takes the reader, the actor the researcher and the “abandoned” community to a place called “home”. The underlying strategy is to nurture and advocate a sense of self-worth, understanding and tolerance. Home is where the heart is and that is exactly what happened when Madge du Preez was interviewed by Lynn Baker on CCFM on Freedom day (27 April 2010). The “scattered” community reconnected with a bruised past that they so much want to bring back to life again.

A question to all the decision-makers, legislators and government officials:

* If the majority of the population in the Western Cape comprises Coloured people…can books like “Gemeng” become a prescribed book for subjects like History, Afrikaans and Life Orientation? Or do decision-makers just include selected “Kaapse” poems in their prescribed books?
* Can the throughput and drop-out rates of the young child who grew up with “Kaaps” as their mother tongue be improved using “Kaaps” as a tool to effect change? Or will academic jargon and continued political debates do the trick?

The idea is not to relegate the standard variety, “…but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Madge du Preez has designed a literacy programme called Write, Read and Perform (WRaP) to test the validity of “Kaaps” as a medium of learning that will bring about change. Its main aim is to synthesize the ability of grade 8 – 11 learners to work towards and adopt an attitude of creative learning through writing, reading and the performing arts and in so doing, improve their literacy level, using Afrikaans, Kaaps and English as the medium of instruction. Text used in the programme embraces the notion of values, the self and wholeness as a person. The content is aligned with aspects embedded in the National Curriculum Statement. The author will be using a number of resources of which “Gemeng” will be a major source during the pilot stage.

Message from the author of “Gemeng”

Under the belief that art has the power to communicate on many levels let us use the arts to bring about change to a community that has been coerced into believing many untruths about “colouredness.” Reclaim your identity and live life to the fullest! “Kaaps” has definitely not been erased from South Africa’s collective consciousness and left to germinate in ghetto culture!! It is alive and well! It is enjoyed by people on and off the stage, national TV and in the homes and streets of Cape Town. it is a language that brings about change. It is dynamic and creative. Without a doubt…a language that has a place in our society. Looking at talented artists engaged in the Spoken Word, Hip-hop and Rap, there is no real need to fight for survival. Should we not rather focus on the way young people of today communicate with one another? Have you ever been on MXit with a young person and engaged with a new “type of dialect” that is currently emerging as a ‘written’ language?… but this is a debate for another time! An interesting debate and one that I will surely engage in.

Just for the record: I was raised with the standard variety (Afrikaans). My late father was a language teacher and encouraged us to nurture and enhance our language acquisition for both Afrikaans and English. However, I learnt to speak “Kaaps” when I was forced to attend high school in Cape Town. There were no high schools for people of colour in Mossel Bay and surrounding areas in the sixties. “Kaaps” allowed me to think out of the box and beyond the barriers that political intelligentsia placed on the oldest urbanized Afrikaans community: District Six in Cape Town.

Closing statement: I am fully tri-lingual and proudly coloured! I respect all human beings as people made by a Sovereign God. Let’s cast off our chains, respect one another and change the heartbeat of our nation.

“In my days was ek al drie mense gewies. Op my birth sitifiekit issek gemeng. Op sweet sixteen wo’d ek ’n Cape Kalaad, en nou issek ’n South African Burghe” (Extract from poem in “Gemeng”)

Details of the author: Madge du Preez
Tel: 021 9827983 (Mondays and Fridays)
Fax: 0866287420
Cell: 0725295941
Website: http://mtaconnect.yellowpages.co.za
Email: mtaconnect@absamail.co.za

Details of “Gemeng” :
Book price : R70
ISBN: 978-0-9585023-1-3

Available from:
Wilstan Book supplies cc, Unit 7 A, Riverpark, De Waal Road, Diepriver, 7800
Tel: 0217067818

Bliss Books & Music shop (His People Church, De Kuilen High school, Kuilsriver)
(available on Sunday mornings only)

Madge du Preez, 14 Doornhoek Street, Northpine, Brackenfell, 7560
Tel: 0219827983 (Mondays and Fridays) 021 9593742 (Tuesdays to Thursdays)
Cell: 0725295941

Comments are closed.