Rap, po­etry and racial di­vides

Artists are try­ing to con­quer South Africa’s legacy of op­pres­sion

African Independent - - FEATURE - JOE PEN­NEY

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.

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