Afrikaans Taal Gala event, University of the Western Cape

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21 Sep 2009

Programme Director
Your Excellencies
Ambassador Rob de Vos of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Ambassador Jan Mouton of the Kingdom of Belgium
Mr David Maenaut, Representative of the Flemish government
Distinguished Delegates and artists
Ladies and Gentlemen:

My predecessor, Minister Z Pallo Jordan, and Minister Frans Timmermans met in February 2008 to discuss the development of cooperative projects between our two countries, within the context of arts, culture and heritage.

One of the projects which flowed out of these discussions was the hosting of an Afrikaans Language Conference and a multi-cultural festival centered on the history and culture of the Dutch and Afrikaans speaking worlds.

A project was therefore launched between the Governments of the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa. Due to the similar political and linguistic heritages with South Africa, the project was extended to the Suriname and the Antilles.

The project aims to foster relationships between southern Africa and the Dutch language area, and cultivate cooperation in the fields of development, culture and art, through academic, heritage, and cultural exchanges, by strengthening partnerships.

The long history of contact between the southern Africa and the Dutch language area dates back to colonial times, and includes the Dutch speaking world’s contribution and role in the anti-apartheid struggle and the continuing support in the post-apartheid era. The relationships between South Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands are of strong economic development, trade relations, mutual diplomatic exchanges and cultural cooperation.

The colonization of the Cape by the Dutch East India Company has impacted on the development of the culture and history of the Afrikaans language.

The Cape was not only the first port of call and conquest, but a rich meeting place and melting pot where various languages and people interacted (despite colonialism, segregation and apartheid and attempts to divide people). At times these engagements and living and working together resulted in coalescence and new forms of culture emerging.

On the one hand, religious refugees from Wallonia in Belgium travelled and settled at the Cape Colony even before the Edict of Fontainbleau - which revoked the religious freedom of the Protestants in France. The Huguenots settled in Franschhoek in the Cape, influencing not just the agricultural produce with the planting of vines, but also the cuisine and the language.

While on the other hand, South Africa shares with Suriname and the Antilles a history of Dutch Colonial rule, and the impact this has on the indigenous languages. The Antilles were colonized in the middle 17th century, and with the Treaty of Breda, the Suriname remained under the colonial ownership of the Dutch, until full independence in 1979.

The conference and the multi-cultural festival, will therefore explore these historical, linguistic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual essences of the communities which inhabit these two language spheres and the new combinations that resulted from interaction and engagement.

The objectives of the Afrikaans Language project are manifold. The debates in the conference will concern itself with the political dimensions of language; language as a tool of empowerment; language as an education tool; and the use of language as a tool for economic and development gains and initiatives.

For the South African Government, it is important that Afrikaans is located within its broader linguistic and cultural diversity, and higher functions, and its relationship with other South African languages.

How these objectives ought to find expression in the programmes and content of the conference and festival is through rigorous debate on the role of Dutch and Afrikaans in the further empowerment of marginalized communities, in terms of education and economic development.

And we also need to explore cooperation between Afrikaans language and Dutch language artists, the promotion of creativity in a mother-tongue through music, theatre, and the spoken word.

The South African Government is a proponent of multilingualism. This principle is contained in the Constitution of South Africa, and institutionalised with the establishment of the National Language Services unit, the Pan South African Language Board, and the Commission for the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities.

The promotion of multi-lingualism globally is based on a philosophy of a panhuman universalism. However, in academic and intellectual circles, there are also studies that problematise the question of language especially as regards the maintenance of multi-lingualism within multi-ethnic states, and within a globalising world.

South Africa has always been a multi-cultural and multi-lingual space, as a pre-colonial and colonial entity, under apartheid and as a democratic state. Under colonial rule, African languages; the various Khoisan languages; High Dutch; Dutch- Afrikaans, also referred to as a kombuis-taal; and English were all spoken in various communities.

But under apartheid rule a bilingual official policy was promoted, while other African languages were promoted only in order to ensure ethnic development. This development was separate and unequal with Afrikaans which was better resourced and becoming increasingly dominant as the lingua franca of Government, as well as a medium of instruction across all racial lines.

Yet the tide had already turned even as apartheid ideologues and their implementers carried out policies bound for failure.

Research shows that in the 1970s a census had been done which hinted at the fact that Afrikaans as a language would steadily decline. With this in mind, the Department of Bantu Administration and Development enforced a 50-50 rule for dual medium instruction in English and Afrikaans in black schools. This gave rise to the 1976 student uprising against the teaching of Afrikaans, and the epoch-shaping events of June 16, 1976 that helped to lay the foundation for change in South Africa and prepared the road for the democratic elections in 1994.

Within the democratic state, 11 official languages have been promoted, which many believe has the practical effect of promoting English as the lingua franca of the country, to the detriment of all the other 10 languages.

There is also a perception that Afrikaans sometimes enjoys a privilege over the other nine indigenous languages, because of the historical investment in Afrikaans. On the other hand, a section of the Afrikaner community is of the view that the Afrikaans language is on the brink of extinction.

I am hopeful that the outcomes of this conference and the festival will address the roots of these perceptions, where they come from and how we can work together more fruitfully in promoting all South African languages. I also foresee ongoing cooperation in the academic, educational, cultural and economic fields, through the development of new works, and the expansion of the debates which will take place over the next few weeks.

These debates are important for the promotion not only of academic life, but also, for furthering debates globally and amongst local interest groups about multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism, about mother-tongue education, the allocation of resources for the development of all languages, and the sustainability of a dialogue in all our mother tongues in an increasingly globalizing world.

As we meet here, the National Arts Council is also preparing to host the 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture in Johannesburg. This summit also has multiculturalism as its main focus and theme. Let our discussions here also feed that event with our thoughts and outcomes.

It is also my wish that the proposals and multilateral cooperative relationships coming out of this conference and festival will begin to lay a foundation for practical ways of developing all our official languages as instruments of restitution, reconciliation and nation building, for creating meaningful and sustainable jobs, empowerment and development for artistic, scientific and technological excellence.

It will also allow us, in the words of the late and great poet, Ingrid Jonker (whose birthday would have been two days ago), to celebrate summer and to leave a lasting legacy for our children and generations to come. I would like to conclude with extracts from Jonker’s poem that celebrates the beginning of summer, the spirit of creativity and the importance of youth as seen through the eyes of a child.

And I quote:

“Begin summer and the sea
A cracked-open quince
The sky like a child’s balloon
far above the water
Under the umbrellas
like striped sugarsticks
ants of people
and the gay laugh of the bay
has golden teeth

Child with the yellow beach-bucket…
your mouth surely is a little bell
tiny grape-tongue for a clapper
You play the sun all day
like a ukulele

Thank you.