Thanks to Aiden Choles for this contribution. The complexity that is South Africa never ceases to amaze me.
When I think of the state of culture and language in South Africa, it’s almost as if someone has swung a pendulum in the language sphere of South African culture, and his name is Bok van Blerk
We are one of those nations where culture equates to language, and vice versa. From the bloody years in which Afrikaans was a forced language of education for all South Africans in the 1970s, and even before, South Africans have found solitude in the culture their language reinforces. Since 1994 however, there has been one language that has suffered at the swing of the pendulum – Afrikaans. Democracy has heralded the freedom of language and culture in our country and the Afrikaners have been struggling to find a cultural foundation on which to stand that honours their culture. (At least this is what I have perceived in the way Afrikaaners are fighting for their Story – I’m English speaking).
And so, Bok van Blerk came on to the scene with a song, Delarey, that tells the story of a general in the Anglo-Boer war who courageously lead the Boere in the fight against the British many a year back. The songs chorus of “De la Rey, De la Rey, sal jy die boere kom lei? [De la Rey, will you come to lead the Boers?]“, and how well the song has done (SA’s best ever debut album) is a salient narrative indicator of where the Afrikaner culture finds itself – in dire need of expression and solidarity. From M&G :
In an interview, Van Blerk, real name Louis Pepler, said the inspiration for De la Rey was his desire to “do something for the language and culture of Afrikaans people. I am a musician, not a politician.” The picture is not all rosy though, as right-wingers are touting the song as a call to arms for the Afrikaners. Against whom? The blacks naturally.
Ironic. Ironic because our esteemed Jacob Zuma cannot restrain himself at every opportunity that beckons (especially outside court) to belt out his Umshini Wami (bring me my gun) in full glory – and no one blinks! And so the cultural sub-text here is that it is acceptable for black South Africans to sing songs of war – it is part of a freedom story. But when Afrikaners sing songs of war heroes and cultural icons, it is perceived as a threat.
When a story (the Afrikaner story) becomes subjugated , a dominant story (that of a free South Africa) will do its utmost to keep that story subjugated, and the best way to do that often is to label the subjugated story as a threat. Much of the same happened (and still does) with those classified as mentally ill in centuries gone by. Thanks to the work of Foucault, who made serious inroads into how we use language as power, we can now see how we as societyattempt to marginalise the story (or people) we find too challenging to deal with, or too difficult to integrate fully into society, so we label them as dangerous and do our best to keep them away.
Come on South Africa! Lets move beyond a petty fear and embrace the complexity of that which makes us all South Africans.
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