Rap, poetry and racial divides
Artists are trying to conquer South Africa’s legacy of oppression
ACITY surrounded by ocean and divided in two by Table Mountain, Cape Town’s natural beauty belies a past of hundreds of years of slavery and racial oppression.
Now a generation of artists, musicians, poets and film-makers is trying to overcome this legacy. In South Africa, a country with 11 official languages, it is not just significant what they say, but how they say it.
Quintin Goliath, who goes by the stage name Jitsvinger (“The Dope One”), is a rapper of mixed ethnic origin from Cape Town. He performs in Afrikaans, a language spoken by 7 million South Africans that is derived from Dutch and draws on Malay, English, Xhosa, Portuguese, Chinese and Khoi.
Goliath, who raps about politics, identity and love, said Afrikaans was becoming more popular, especially among the young.
“Afrikaans has become more edgy and loose in the last decade and a half,” he said.
Up to six different languages can be spoken in one sentence, he added. “As a result, my vernacular can reach the broader collective consciousness and that’s where the future lies for Afrikaans: inclusivity and the acceptance of one another’s expression.”
While some see the future of Afrikaans as promising, its past is contested. Afrikaans developed in Cape Town among slaves from West Africa and Indonesia, and the indigenous Khoi and San tribes, who adapted the Dutch spoken by slave owners and colonial settlers.
Today only about 40 percent of those who speak Afrikaans at home are white South Africans, according to the South Africa Race Relations Institute. “Many still refer to ‘white’ Afrikaans as beautiful, pure and proper but their version has a negative or lower form reflecting an internalised self-hatred left behind through slavery, colonialism and apartheid,” Goliath said. “There’s a lot of repair work needed within the broader Afrikaans community.”
Cape Town poet Jethro Louw also performs in Afrikaans. He is a descendant of indigenous Khoisan and Mozambican slaves and includes indigenous stories and myths of Cape Town in his poetry. He plays the musical bow, traditionally used for poetry, music and communication.
“I try to popularise the First Nation Culture and its symbols, such as the bow, in the public domain,” he said.
English is the fourth-most spoken language in South Africa after Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans, but its role in public life is far more influential.
Bheki Pilot Biller, a 24-year-old film student from Limpopo who speaks Zulu and English, chooses the latter in his work which focuses on social issues.
He said Cape Town remained racially divided and that he had experienced job discrimination because he did not speak Afrikaans.
“I can’t take this situation whereby for you to get a job you need to have a specific skin colour. There are opportunities where they note that you must know how to read and write Afrikaans fluently. What kind of job is that?”
There are voices clamouring for a more inclusive South Africa. At a recent concert, rock musician Jeremy de Tolly, a white, native English speaker from Cape Town, said the country’s white population should share their wealth with their fellow South Africans.
POETIC STANCE: Cape Town poet Jethro Louw also performs in Afrikaans. He is a descendant of indigenous Khoisan and Mozambican slaves and includes indigenous stories and myths of Cape Town in his poetry. He plays the musical bow, traditionally used for poetry, music and communication.